Doc Series – Creating Empathy in Virtual Reality: The Challenges and Success of Immersive Experiences

Virtual Reality is leading the charge to engage the world with ever-increasing social ills including poverty, communicable diseases, and the daunting refugee crisis. The surrounding debate questions whether or not immersive experiences can make individuals more empathetic, and more importantly does this lead to substantial change?

NYWIFT’s documentary committee is exploring this topic with a panel of producers and filmmakers engaging users in immersive experiences with the potential to inspire empathy. The panel will explore the role empathy plays in VR documentaries and whether or not it can be an effective device. Speakers will demo pieces exemplifying how they utilize empathy in VR, and provide valuable insight on best practices, devices and viewing platforms. Attendees will receive an invaluable primer for VR development and production along with practical tips and tools for effectively approaching immersive storytelling.

Program Schedule:

5:30 – 6pm VR Demos

6 – 8pm Panel Discussion


Bronte Lord is a digital producer and head of VR Content Strategy for CNN VR She has worked in video production forNY Daily News and as a producer for CNN Money. Bronte is spearheading content strategy for CNN’s entrance into immersive storytelling with their newly launched VR unit which has produced more than 50 pieces of 360-degree content. CNN VR offers viewers a centralized platform,including mobile, web and Oculus headgear experiences via CNN’s iOS and Android apps. Their mobile app is touted as the third largest VR-capable mobile app behind YouTube and Facebook.

Melissa Pracht
Negin Allamehzadeh

Melissa Pracht and Negin Allamehzadeh both executive produced and field produced the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) virtual reality/360° documentary project Forced From Home. The project consists of 5 short documentaries with binaural sound to be experienced in VR headsets and online, and a 5-minute montage piece to be viewed inside a geodesic dome, all of which are main features of a traveling exhibition about  the challenges that refugees and other displaced people around the world are facing.


Pegi Vail, PhD (Moderator) is an anthropologist, filmmaker, and sustainable travel consultant whose academic work has focused on visual anthropology, Indigenous media and on the political economy of tourism in the developing world. She is the Associate Director at New York University’s Center for Media, Culture and History. Her award-winning documentary Gringo Trails looks at the long term cultural and environmental effects of global tourism. Vail has taught on Film and Culture at NYU and Columbia University Anthropology Departments; Tourist Productions in the NYU Performance Studies Program; and is currently teaching documentary filmmaking through the NYU Department of Anthropology’s Program in Culture and Media. As a curator, she has collaborated with colleagues at NYC arts and cultural institutions such as the National Museum of the American Indian, American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and through organizations such as the the storytelling collective The Moth. Vail has additionally served as a judge for the World Travel Tourism Council and National Geographic’s World Legacy Awards. She was the cultural consultant and APP co-writer for Felix & Paul Studios’ Nomads virtual reality (VR) series, available on Oculus & Samsung.


Produced by Tracy Daniels, Kelly DeVine, Anna Pasztor, and Alexandra Pearson

Hosted by the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute

Special Thanks to Marcia Rock, Director of News and Documentary
at the NYU Arthur Carter Journalism Institute and
Chair of NYWIFT’s Documentary Committee

May 9 @ 5:00pm
5:00 pm — 8:00 pm (3h)

NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute
20 Cooper Square, 7th Floor
New York, N.Y. 10003


$15 for NYWIFT Members
$25 for Nonmembers
Register by prepayment online

Join the conversation on social media:
#nywift | @nywift

NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.