360˚ and virtual reality films suck the spectator into their worlds

Anni Leino, 9.10.2019

Two Finnish 360˚ films received their premiers in 2018: Devil’s Lungs, a 3D work directed by Alla Kovgan and produced by Loikka Kontakt, and a VR work, The Womb Song, directed by Hanna Västinsalo. They lead the spectators, one at a time, into their dream-like worlds.

The Article written by Anni Leino has been published in Finnish Dance in Focus magazine 2018-2019.

©Devil’s lungs

Immersivity swallows the audience while the work creates its own logic and world, in which the spectator is one of the pawns in the game. With the development of technology and the greater availability of VR films, artistic experiences will offer a more and more holistic way of leaving behind the everyday and even the surrounding world.

An experience like a dream

I feel tense as I stand alone wearing 360˚ glasses and headphones, my eyes and ears covered. With my senses cut off from the outside world, the film takes me into a black, boggy space, where I feel as I’m standing on a rostrum. When I look down, I see a faint circle of light surrounding my feet.

I’m in the space alone for only a moment. Slightly blurred human figures spread around me, some close, others further away. The world of Devil’s Lungs and its dream-like atmosphere remind me of scenes in the TV series Stranger Things, in which Eleven’s subconscious is shown as a black, endless state space. I can’t approach the figures but I can reach out and turn. I laugh aloud when I try to touch one of the film’s dancers, the accordion player or the other musicians – I should know they aren’t physically present! Even so, if someone touched me now from behind, I could believe it’s one of them. I marvel at the ease with which the human brain can be deceived.

In one scene of Devil’s Lung I stand in the middle of a table surrounded by the film’s figures. Some of them I recognise. Dancers Tuomas Juntunen, Salla Korja-Paloniemi and Reetta-Kaisa Iles are nearby; they seem real, they’re singing a drinking song, downing shots. They look me straight in the eye, that is straight at the camera, and smile mischievously. I can only smile back and turn on the spot in order to see the faces of all sitting at the table.

Wonderful, terrifying development of technology

Hanna Västinsalo’s Womb Song also lures you into believing in a cinematic reality. The Womb Song features a scene in which the camera follows a dancer who moves forward between two thin, fluttering pieces of fabric. I stand still between the fabrics trying to resist the temptation to move towards the dancer. The fluttering fabrics impair my sense of balance and I occasionally think I can feel the current passing between them on my skin.

It’s rare that an adult gets to experience things honestly for the first time and be immersed to the extent he or she forgets the surrounding world. I’m highly inspired by what I’ve seen – and jubilant. I can’t help wondering what technological development can mean for the performing arts, dance and dance films – or for travel. Why fly to the other side of the world, if cinematic worlds spring from artists’ imaginations, that is, alternative worlds you might be able to visit one day – while in your own living room?

After its premier at Loikka Dance Film Festival, Devil’s Lungs has been shown at Tampere Film Festival. It was also invited, as the first Finnish VR film, to be part of the 2018 Next VR programme of Cannes Film Festival. In June 2018, Devil’s Lungs got the Best Immersive and 360° Film Award at VIS – Vienna Shorts Festival, in Austria.

 In October 2019

Devil’s lungs can be experienced at Womex – World Music Expo (Tampere, Finland) at the booth nr 3.5 (Dance from Finland):

Wed 23 –  Please contact Producer Maritta Laesmaa: maritta.laesmaa@tsuumi.com (the exhibition hall is open from 2pm to 6pm)

Thu 24 – Sat 26 – from 11am to 1pm and from 4pm to 6pm at the booth nr 3.5 (the exhibition hall is open from 2pm to 6pm)