Cinema of Attraction

Christina Newland of the 2014 Talent Press reviews THE IMAGONAUT, a feature film shot for a 180° screen.

THE IMAGONAUT by Philipp Wenning

THE IMAGONAUT venue is tucked away in an alley alongside the HAU Hebbel am Ufer (HAU1), one of the main venues of Berlinale Talents. In true Kreuzberg style, the curved 180° screen fills most of a cramped little room, lined with space heaters and mats on the floor in lieu of seats. The atmosphere is intimate and friendly as a small group settles in, anticipating a throwback to the “cinema of attractions“ and the special film made to be shown on it. The 180° screen was a popular attraction on fairgrounds and theme parks in the 1980's, a spectacle reminiscent both of silent era experimentation and 1950's Cinerama (which only used a 150° screen). The effect, of course, is designed to engulf its audience; it is a truly immersive, sensory experience, opening with the rocking of a boat on a river and simulating a sense of genuine physical movement. When the camera is placed gazing down several flights of stairs, the vertigo becomes overwhelming.

While the 180° format has its limitations, and is typically now used for art installations and non-narrative film, THE IMAGONAUT by Philipp Wenning is a rather traditional feature. It has something of a flimsy science fiction plot, dealing with the nature of memory and those who would exploit it. It loses traction as it goes, but it remains engaging through the novelty of the experience. THE IMAGONAUT never attempts to shove spectacle into scenes where there is none, unlike many showcase films. Additionally, it presents some novel choices; it swings from a futuristic observation desk to the eyes of a young child, all in first person point-of-view. One is made hyper-aware of the camera's position, aided by the ongoing shifts in perspective. The audience's feeling of physical proximity in the 180° format heightens the voyeurism inherent in cinema, a concept which makes any experimentation exciting. THE IMAGONAUT was a mind-expanding opportunity for a singularly unique viewing experience.