Update, 5/23: The winner of Cannes’ XR category was Colored. You can see its description and preview below, along with all of the other finalists 

The prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which continues into this week, has added extended reality, XR (VR, AR and other variations of spatial computing), as an official category and competition. Cannes was an early supporter of VR, and featured Alejandro Innaratu’s Carne y Arena VR experience in 2017, where it won a special award. Cannes now joins the Venice and Tribeca film festivals and SXSW, which have included XR experiences since 2016.

There are eight selected works in the newly announced Immersive Competition, including six experiences that can accommodate multiple users at once, thus addressing the most common problem with VR experiences in public places: throughput. Prolific, award-winning French VR production company, Atlas V, responsible for breakthrough works “Notes on Blindness,” “Battlescar,” and “Spheres,” is being honored with a restrospective of six of its VR experiences.

En amour is an interactive audio-visual installation about love and separation created by French studio Adrien M & Claire B. Outside of the Cannes Film Festival, it has been on exhibition at the Philharmonie de Paris with a capacity of 40 people per show, with 44 showings or 1760 people per week at capacity- a model more likely to break even than traditional immersive headset based experiences.

There’s also EVOLVER, a VR experience and meditation session which places the audience inside the human body, following the flow of oxygen. Up to six people at a time can experience it. EVOLVER has already been exhibited in Seoul, Warsaw, and Australia. The piece has some heavyweights involved including Pressman Film, Cate Blanchett (voice-over) and her production company Dirty Films, the telecommunications giant Orange, Marshmallow Laser Feast and Atlas V, and artists like Jonny Greenwood, and Jon Hopkins working on music for the piece. It must have cost a tonne.

MAYA: The Birth of a Superhero is about a South Asian girl’s coming of age and the awakening of her sexuality. The creators Poulomi Basu and CJ Clarke decided to lean in on virtual reality’s more claustrophobic and isolating characteristics as well as its power of embodiment to put you in the shoes of the protagonist. Featuring novel storytelling techniques using the technology available is a staple of the French New Wave movement, where experimentation was favored over traditional filmmaking conventions. It means Cannes could be the place where we discover the future legends of immersive works, like Goddard or Truffaut in film.

TELOS I by Dorotea Saykaly and Emil Dam Seidel is a holographic piece about an AI exploring its identity in a world where humans are extinct. It’s a world premiere, alongside HUMAN VIOLINS – PRELUDE, an interactive piece for six people at a time about the Holocaust, following the fictionalized story of Alma, a young violin player. We’ve seen this piece before at festivals like Venice, however, this is the first showing of the multiplayer experience. It’s by Romanian writer and director Ioana Mischie.


The only augmented reality experience is COLORED, taking you to 1950s Alabama where you discover the story of Claudette Colvin, a forgotten hero of the Civil Rights movement. The directors Stephane Foenkinos and Pierre-Alain use the HoloLens to bring historical figures into our physical space, to have ghost-like people surrounding you in a story about what it is to be human.

The Roaming, directed by Mathieu Pradat, is about violence and solidarity. It also stands alone in its category as the only experience with live actors. This could be an interesting format at Cannes where actors and directors are the stars of the show.


Finally, Traversing the Mist, which just won the Grand Jury Prize at NewImages Festival in Paris, is a location-based VR experience about gay culture, voyeurism, and loneliness where visitors embody a young Taiwanese man and venture into a gay sauna.

The in-competition works can host from 3 to 25 guests per experience with a collective exhibition throughput of approximately 542 people per day. It’s peanuts compared to cinema, however, it’s easy to forget that cinema, like XR, was once an emerging art form and medium.

“The raison d’être of the Cannes Film Festival is to showcase the very best in cinema in order to contribute to its evolution and encourage the development of the film industry worldwide. In the long term, we want to achieve the same result for the immersive works we exhibit, and distribution is undeniably one of the major challenges,” says Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival.

Film at one stage transformed culture. Today, XR is the new wave of storytelling. It’s significant that Cannes is putting its clout behind the medium, and while it’s not the first time XR has been showcased at the festival, this is the first time they‘ve created an official competition with its own Award Ceremony.

“If the objective is to make a point that immersive art is distinct from the art form of cinema, then we need to be consistent in our messaging. It’s important to avoid immersive works appearing as a genre or an extension of cinema at the Awards Ceremony for cinematic works. We would also like to take another bet by organizing a dedicated event where the medium is celebrated and immersive artists are the real stars of the ceremony,” says Immersive Competition Project Director Elie Levasseur.

“Cannes Festival opening an official competition for XR means that our past years of exploration, blending stories and immersive technologies, are going somewhere. Our stories are noticed and brought to new audiences’ attention by the most prestigious festival in the world. It is a very special moment for the XR community,” says Fred Volhuer, cofounder of Atlas V.

As a part of the exhibition, six non-competitive and mostly older works provided by Atlas V are being showcased in a museum-like format, including Spheres (2017), Missing Pictures (2022), Notes on Blindness (2016), Emperor (2023), Battlescar (2020) and Gloomy Eyes (2019). The goal is to show how the medium has evolved to inform the Festival’s film audience, many of whom will be encountering XR for the first time.


When the Immersive Competition’s doors officially open on May 15, a new chapter will unfold for the Cannes Film Festival, in a new medium. Immersive Competition Project Director Levasseur’s role is to show that they can do this, tackling the growing pains of an emerging medium first by identifying great pieces (just like Cannes’ role in cinema), and then using the power of its spotlight to support commercialization.

Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn, and check out his website or other work.

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