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‘Carne y Arena’ in Omaha: What To Expect

I didn’t anticipate sand between my toes and an uneasy feeling that would linger for hours later, but I did expect to walk away from “CARNE y ARENA  (Virtually present, Physically invisible)” with a new perspective on immigration. The Academy Award®-winning virtual reality experience is in Omaha June 9 through Sept. 10 at KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission in order to write this review. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. 

A graphic for Alejandro G. Iñárritu's “CARNE y ARENA  (Virtually present, Physically invisible)”
Image courtesy KANEKO

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What to expect at “CARNE y ARENA”

The creator of this experience, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, wanted to create a storytelling experience that captured the harrowing journey of Central American and Mexican refugees, and it’s based on true accounts. 

Like other virtual reality experiences, you go on this experience on your own. It lasts about 20 minutes, assuming there are no technical difficulties. I had some tech problems with my equipment, so it lasted a bit longer for me. 

The Academy Award®-winning virtual reality experience, CARNE Y ARENA,” is in Omaha June 9 through Sept. 10, 2022
Photo courtesy KANEKO

Here’s a brief explainer of what to expect:

  • You’ll start your journey alone in a cold holding room with faded sneakers, dusty water bottles and children’s sandals scattered around the room. They are real items left in the desert over the years. You remove your own socks and shoes, as directed.
  • You then go into a dark room that is lined with sand. After the virtual reality backpack, headphones and goggles are on, you are transported to a desert at dawn.
  • For me, I had a little trouble at first getting into the experience. I saw people walking toward me in the shadows, and while I felt uneasy, I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. It wasn’t until the border patrol arrived – which happens rather quickly – that I started to forget where I was. They yelled for us to put our hands up, and I did. And then I found myself on my knees in the sand, gazing at the gun in the patrolman’s hoster that was right at eye level, and seemed right within reach. 
  • Knowing that the people in this virtual reality film were real people, whose thoughts you can hear at times, makes this a powerful viewing experience. Movies can make you feel a lot of things, but never have I gone through the emotions of first feeling like wary spectator; to feeling concerned like I was a present, but invisible, witness to an impending tragedy; to feeling like I could be seen and I was a visible participant. It was confusing, alarming, and unsettling.

Note: Due to the realistic experience, including experiences with firearms, this is not recommended for kids under 13.

Who should see “CARNE Y ARENA”?

Film can serve as a mirror to the audience or a window, the same way a book can. In that way, “CARNE Y ARENA” is a window, at least for me, and it quite literally placed me on the path of migrants, where I perceived myself to be walking in their footsteps. It creates empathy, or deepens empathy for the immigrants’ experience.

The face of Selena, a mother from Guatemala in “CARNE Y ARENA”
Image courtesy KANEKO

“During the making of this project, I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing many Mexican and Central American refugees. Their life stories haunted me, so I invited some of them to collaborate with me on the project. My intention was to experiment with VR technology to explore the human condition in an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame–within which things are just observed–and claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts.” – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Director

And whatever side you stand on the issue of immigration, having empathy while discussing the topic is a good thing. Some critics have called it “life-changing” and while I’m not totally on that end of the spectrum, it’s fair to say it was powerful.

There’s another reason to see this film, and it’s quite simply because it is a technological marvel. Iñárritu worked with three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to employ state-of-the-art immersive technology to create a multi-narrative light space. The experience is different for each person. 

Who shouldn’t see the “CARNE Y ARENA”?

“CARNE Y ARENA” isn’t for everyone, particularly a few groups are advised against seeing it:

  • “CARNE y ARENA” is not recommended for individuals with claustrophobia, heart conditions, back conditions, a history of seizures, epilepsy, and/or sensitivity to flashing lights. 
  • It is not recommended for children ages 13 and under.

By the way, this is a big deal for Nebraska

It’s no small thing that this film is in Omaha, Nebraska. The film has had sold-out runs in the U.S. and abroad following its presentation at the 70th Festival de Cannes in 2017. “CARNE y ARENA” was the first VR experience ever chosen as part of the festival’s Official Selection. 

Iñárritu is a Mexican film director, writer, and producer who has won Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay for “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” and Best Director for “The Revenant.”

If you want to go


Where: KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.

When: June 9, 2022 – Sept. 10, 2022

KANEKO is open Tuesdays through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. KANEKO is closed on Mondays.

Cost: Tickets are $40. The installation is accessible to those with reduced mobility. Contact KANEKO prior to your visit to arrange assistance.

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