Why Swedish Moviegoers Are Being Sealed in Coffins

Ahead of the Goteborg Film Festival beginning Jan. 27, the event's director is embracing "sarcophagus screenings," where eight volunteers will view a film while shut in caskets: "We like to find new places and new ways to experience cinema."
Fanny & Alexander
The Goteborg Festival's movie coffins.

If screenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery aren't macabre enough, try attending the Goteborg Film Festival in Sweden, where some in the audience at the Jan. 27 premiere of Aniara will get to watch the Swedish-language apocalyptic sci-fi film while sealed in coffins.

The "sarcophagus screening" — during which eight volunteers at a time will be shut into specially made caskets outfitted with screens, speakers and air vents — is designed to enhance the bleak themes of the movie's late-era capitalism dystopian setting, according to the festival's director, Jonas Holmberg.

It's a drama about a spaceship carrying consumption-obsessed passengers, knocked off course en route to Mars, that serves as "a metaphor for Earth, that the future of our planet could be this kind of sarcophagus, floating alone through space as we use up our natural resources,” Holmberg says, strangely upbeat. “Our goal was to find a way to take the experience of the film, and the apocalypse, further. To take the sense of aloneness and claustrophobia and strengthen it.”

The festival worked closely with the film's directors, Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, to design the experience. Staff will also be standing by for the film's entire one-hour, 46-minute runtime. “It's an experiment,” says Homberg. “At Goteborg we like to find new places and new ways to experience cinema. But we really have no idea how people will react.”

Goteborg will be doing 33 sarcophagus screenings of Aniara between Jan. 27 and 31, and just in case, each coffin has a red panic button for instant resurrection.

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.