“In VR, we instinctively feel a surge of empathy for those whose experiences we are immersed in.”  
- Danfung Dennis, “Where Virtual Reality Takes Us,” the New York Times

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Virtual reality as an immersive experience gives participants a sense of being physically present, just don a headset and be transported anywhere. The power and intensity of the VR and 360-degree experience is spawning a new ecosystem for VR filmmaking and experimentation. This panel brings together a journalist, a multimedia producer, a creative technologist/storyteller, and an interactive storyteller who explore four different creative uses of this new platform as they develop the language of narrative storytelling in virtual reality, create immersive experiences, and tell important stories.


John Benton is an information and narrative designer working with emerging technologies. His interactive graphic novel “codeGirl” won the Tribeca Film Festival’s mobile storytelling prize as well as London’s PttP Market Prize in 2015. He is presently a fellow at the IFP/ MiNY Media Center where he is working on the intersection of comics and games in VR.

He teaches film and new media at New York University and in the New Media Narratives program at the International Center of Photography.


Francesca Panetta is a multi-award winning sound artist and journalist. She works for the Guardian as a Special Projects Editor leading on projects which innovate in storytelling. Working with journalists and multimedia producers, developers and designers, she has commissioned and directed flagship pieces such as Firestorm, The Shirt on Your Back, The View from the Shard, and First World War, an interactive multilingual interactive documentary. In addition to her work at the Guardian, Francesca works as a sound artist specializing in binaural sound design and non-linear storytelling, usually in physical landscapes. Francesca talks around the world about digital storytelling and innovation in audio.

Project: "6 x 9: An Immersive Experience of Solitary Confinement"

Marcelle Hopkins is an independent journalist specializing in human rights and humanitarian crises. She directed the immersive documentary on South Sudan for PBS's investigative series Frontline. In 2015, she received a Magic Grant from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and a Social Justice Media Fellowship from the Made in NY Media Center by IFP. She wrote and produced an interactive documentary on Sri Lanka’s recovery from civil war, which won a United Nations Foundation Prize and a Horizon Interactive Award. Over seven years at Al Jazeera’s UN bureau, she covered nearly every major international conflict and crisis of the past decade.

Project: “On the Brink of Famine” takes you inside South Sudan to meet people battling a man-made hunger crisis. Experience the front lines of a famine in the making, in this VR documentary by Frontline and the Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

Jessica Kantor is an interactive storyteller and VR filmmaker. She is experimenting with large scale interactive installations and discovering how to tell a story in an immersive environment. A former Associate Director of Marketing at the Sundance Institute and Head of Marketing & Content at Livestream.com, she is an avid baker, surfer, film lover, and obsessive about all things geek.

Project: Playing with movement, space and time, “Ashes” shares the tragic story of two lovers, told specifically for a 360-degree-headset environment. Director and producer Jessica Kantor draws upon her classical ballet training to bring us this unique piece inspired by choreographer Pina Bausch, known for telling stories through dance. Ashes will be screening as part of the Virtual Arcade at the Tribeca Film Festival 2016.

Jake Lee-High is savvy creative technologist and entrepreneur by nature. He studied art and architecture in undergraduate and received his masters from the Massachusettes College of Art and Design with a focus in art and technology.  In 2005, he started an architectural consulting firm focusing on the design of retail and residential spaces throughout the Western US. After spending several years as Creative/Technical Director for an experiential agency, Jake founded Future Colossal in 2012. He continues to shape Future Colossal’s trajectory through the innovation of new technologies and experiences for commercial and artistic works.

Project: “Shadows of Isolation” is a lucid dream like journey through an ever-changing worldscape. Exploring urban isolationism and the replacement of nature with technology, it uses VR as an installation space, stepping outside of the traditional gallery/museum model to distribute immersive art freely to the masses.

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