"It's a lot of feelings but I think the real one is desperation. If you're there you cannot do anything, you just have to endure the bombing as civilians, and that's what we wanted to show."
SMART released its latest virtual reality film, Nobel's Nightmare, on 15 June. The film puts viewers in the middle of the rescue operations in the aftermath of the bombing of civilian areas in Syria.
The aim, said Sarkis, is to highligh the powerlessness of the civilians, who often do not have the equipment necessarily to rescue their families from beneath the rubble.
"You are really transported inside Syria and you can really look at the details," Sarkis told Journalism.co.uk in an interview at the GEN Summit.
"Each viewer has their own scenario, and I think what you feel when you watch the movie is desperation.
"You see the destruction in a huge manner, you see how people are like zombies, they cannot even react to the destruction.
"They know their family is under the stones and they cannot do anything, they do not have the means to extract them, there is the Civil Defence there trying to extract them.
"So you can really feel the desperation of the people, you can feel the difficulties of life."
Why virtual reality?
The film is the third virtual reality project from SMART, an organisation who has been experimenting with different types of storytelling since its inception five years ago.
As entering the country and reporting from Syria has been a difficult and dangerous task for journalists since 2011, SMART has worked primarily with citizen journalists trained remotely by the team to write news stories and produce video.
Relying on citizen journalists for their reporting meant Sarkis, who is based in France, had to prove they were a credible source and could be trusted by other news organisations who were interested in running their stories.
He first turned to livestreaming as a way to show they were trustworthy, and more recently to virtual reality.
"We are doing VR also for credibility, because you let the viewer be the witness inside Syria. He feels he is in Syria, it's a virtual teleportation and he can see with his own eyes what is happening.
"If you tell him there are neighbourhoods that are completely destroyed, he wouldn't believe you, but if you put the headset on his eyes and he can watch them, he can really witness the destruction.
"So that's very powerful, and you can add the storytelling, it's not just raw images."
Working with virtual reality in Syria has proven a challenging task. For one, getting the cameras into the country and the footage back out is no easy feat.
Without any small 360-degree cameras on hand, the team had to use six cameras and then stitch the footage together.
"This is a problem in Syria. People don't like one camera, so having a gear with six cameras can frighten them.
"You have people with weapons everywhere, they can be stressed by the cameras, so that's one of the difficulties."
Another challenging aspect of the production process was that reporters filming in 360-degrees often hadn't seen a 360-degree video beforehand, meaning they couldn't imagine what the final cut of the film would look like.
Despite the difficulties, the team has produced three films so far, and is planning another two: a VR docu-drama, and a VR art film about childhood in Syria.
"We're testing what can be done with VR in Syria," said Sarkis.
Listen to Sarkis discuss in more depth the challenges of working with virtual reality in Syria in our recent podcast here.
Free daily newsletter
- App for journalists: VRfix, for re-injecting 360 metadata into your videos
- How a virtual reality documentary takes viewers into immigration detention centres
- Tip: Bookmark this list of affordable 360-degree cameras
- How student journalists are using virtual reality to raise awareness of potential natural disasters
- How spatial audio can make your 360-degree videos more immersive