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Take a virtual journey through the Happyland slum in the Philippines

This short virtual-reality documentary showcases life in a former fishing village turned landfill.

You'll need to watch Happyland360 through a VR headset to fully immerse yourself in the slums.
Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET

Sometimes, we don't know how good we have it until we see what life is like on the other side of the world. But now, thanks to a virtual-reality documentary, we can explore the world of the Happyland slum.

Documentary creator Vitaly Nechaev's Happyland360 focuses on five people who care about the Happyland slum. Happyland started as a toxic landfill called Hapilan, or "smelly garbage" in the local dialect, and was renamed by the locals in hope of better times. It's located about 20 minutes away from the capital city of Manila in the Philippines and photography is usually prohibited.

Nechaev, who runs his own virtual reality company called VostokVR, was inspired by a video of Syrian refugees as well as another video of a Russian girl singing a tagalog (the Filipino language) song called Anak.

"When I watched the video of Anak, I saw more than just the slums, more than a dump site, I saw a lot of beautiful smiling faces. I was surprised, and something changed inside of me. I wanted to bring this experience from flat 2D to 360 VR," he said.

For Nechaev, a Russian living in Singapore, this project married two of his passions: VR technology and educating people about life in the slum.

Together with V3RA, another Singapore-based VR company, he convinced optical systems manufacturer Carl Zeiss to come onboard as a sponsor. Since he already had most of the equipment he needed, he only spent about a little bit more of his own cash making the documentary.

Nechaev filmed the slums using six GoPro Black action cameras linked together. He also got in touch with Anna Rabtsun, the singer in the original Anak video, and arranged a concert for the people living in Happyland.

Nechaev isn't stopping at just Happyland360. He plans to produce more original documentaries that focus on the modern challenges faced by people in Asia.