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Stoop Storytelling co-founder's virtual-reality film to debut at Sundance

It’s hard to say what Laura Wexler finds more exciting, the fact that she’s the co-executive producer and co-writer of a short film having its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week, or that she’s on the ground floor of technology that could revolutionize filmmaking.

The 13-minute short film “Dinner Party,” written and created by Wexler and Charlotte Stoudt, will premiere Friday at Sundance. Depicting an interracial New Hampshire couple whose tale of being abducted by aliens in 1961 was the first such incident to be widely reported, the film uses virtual-reality technology to allow viewers to share in the characters’ experiences.

“The real thrill of the hour is to be present at the beginning, at the creation of a new storytelling medium,” said Wexler, co-founder of Baltimore's Stoop Storytelling series. “Instead of just watching these people experience their own alien abduction, you as the viewer are inside that experience.”

Directed by Angel Manuel Soto, “Dinner Party” was shot last September, with the goal of getting it ready in time to be submitted to Sundance; Wexler said they made the deadline with literally one minute to spare. It was funded in part through a $15,000 mentorship grant from the Saul Zaentz Innovation Fund in Film and Media at the Johns Hopkins University and a $100,000 grant from Alternate Realities, a program run by the tech forum Engadget.

Wexler said “Dinner Party,” in which the couple endure vastly different experiences at the hands of their abductors, was written as a “racial allegory … It’s really a story about race, and how different it is for black and white people in America.”

In the film, the couple, Barney and Betty Hill, have no memories of their experiences and undergo hypnosis to try and recover them. Reluctant to listen to tapes of their sessions alone, they play them for the first time at a dinner party with friends.

“They realize that each of them had a very different experience,” Wexler said.

“Dinner Party” is a pilot for what the filmmakers envision as a series to be called “The Incident,” short films all based on “true-life supernatural events,” Wexler said

Distribution plans for “Dinner Party,” including a potential screening in the Baltimore area, are still being worked out, she said. “There’s a lot of ways it could happen, and it’s not clear what the model for distribution will be.”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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