Four Highlights from SXSW 2021’s Virtual Cinema Competition

Immersive stories of connection, transformation, observation and decision-making

This year’s SXSW Online XR slate of programming debuts an abundance of imaginative, adventurous and sometimes otherworldly filmic works. The roster includes a virtual cinema competition with many world premieres, as well as a division for projects already garnering international attention (including CH selects from previous festivals like 4 Feet High VR, Paper Birds and Finding Pandora X, and others we’ve loved like Namoo). For the tenured VR explorer or those dabbling for the first time, SXSW offers diverse selections underpinned by innovation.

All SXSW Online pass-holders can access the programming through the VRChat app on a Windows PC and a PCVR headset or with an Oculus Quest headset. In addition to film, the division is also holding live sessions, special events and even “meet-ups” for the XR curious. The four selections below range from fictional narratives to episodic documentaries, but all of them are undeniably immersive.

Courtesy of Couzin Films

The Passengers: Her & Him

As much an internal adventure as it is the tale of two strangers sitting opposite one another on a train, The Passengers: Her & Him asks participants to heed cues from an inner-monologue (and experience memories that inform them) to make decisions. This 20-minute emotional ride from producer and director Ziad Touma can be viewed on any headset tethered to PC.

Courtesy of Huang Hsin-Chien


From writer-director Huang Hsin-Chien, episode one of Samsara places viewers into an “embodied cognition” experience—where one transforms into various beings to expand perception and broaden the concept of otherness. The 20-minute film was produced by the Virtual and Physical Media Integration Association of Taiwan, and ensuing episodes will likely be as transformative.

Courtesy of Fabbula Diffusion

Of Hybrids and Strings

For 12 minutes, Of Hybrids and Strings probes the possibilities of human and trans-species connectedness, told as a forest and its inhabitants coalesce into something spectacular. From artist/director Lauren Moffatt, the visually arresting experimental immersion challenges the way we perceive the natural world and the beings within it.

Courtesy of Felix & Paul Studios

Space Explorers: The ISS Experience Episode 2: Advance

From Emmy Award-winning Felix & Paul Studios, in partnership with TIME Studio, Space Explorers: The ISS Experience Episode 2: Advance is a continuation of the stunning four-part series drawn from the largest production ever filmed in space. Intimate access to the International Space Station and the lives of eight astronauts unfolds around the viewer. Episode 1 made its world premiere through SXSW XR last year and its 35-minute sequel does not disappoint. An Oculus Quest 2 is required.

Hero image courtesy of Felix & Paul Studios