EXCLUSIVE: The first widely publicized report of an alien abduction in America provides the backdrop for director Angel Manuel Soto’s latest virtual reality short film, Dinner Party.

Soto said he was drawn to the September 1961 account of Barney and Betty Hill’s encounter with extraterrestrials in rural New Hampshire, both as a sensational story that captivated the nation — and as an opportunity to explore race and privilege. Barney, a postal worker, was African American. His wife, a social worker, was white.

“A lot of the way they perceived their experience is based on their racial interpretation — like white privilege versus brown disadvantage type of thing,” said Soto, whose VR short film Bashir’s Dream premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. “It serves a really cool way of exploring a deeper social subject, with the wow factor that an alien abduction story can bring as an appeal.”  (Check out a trailer above.)

After their nighttime encounter, the Hills underwent hypnosis to recover the memories of what they experienced. Their stories were captured on tape. The couple was too frightened to listen to the recordings alone, so they played the tapes for friends at a dinner party. The taped accounts would threaten their marriage and raise questions about race and perception.

Dinner Party was produced through Skybound Entertainment, RYOT Films, and Telexist VR in Virtual Reality 3D stereo, and by Circle of Confusion and Thunder Studios, and developed at Sundance 2017 New Frontier Lab. Charlotte Stoudt and Laura Wexler created, co-produced, and wrote the project.

It is one of five projects to receive a total of $500,000 in grants from the tech publication Engadget, to fund new forms of immersive storytelling. The projects will debut November 14 at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.

Here’s a sampling of the Engadget Experience: Altered Realities projects: