Hell Searchers Document Hell on Earth in “Searching for Hell” (2015)
What and where is Hell? “Searching For Hell” (2015) answers these questions in a unique way. It uses a cross-genre, transmedia approach to document its search for Hell in the world of the living. It does so in a way that is both artistic and accessible. As a result, it makes a powerful impact on the viewer.
Hell exists. It’s just not what you think it is.
“Searching for Hell” is a transcontinental journey. It tells the stories of people who live in contemporary Hells all over the world. The film focuses on five places that provide visions of Hell. In so doing, it moves from the literal to the metaphorical.
“A Hole to Hell” (Directed by Pawel Nazaruk and Tomasz Adamski)
The adventure begins in Siberia. Here engineers and scientists dug a hole to Hell in the 1980s. This segment follows a geologist from the project as he revisits both the site and his memories of it, which include a meeting with the Devil himself.
“A Postcard from Hell” (directed by Darek Barecki)
The focus shifts to an American town that bears the name of Hell. Hell, Michigan is more of a theme park than a municipality. Even its official U.S. Post Office provides custom singeing for any item mailed from it. The town’s mayor tells his own story of an infernal encounter. This near-death experience occurred during his service in the Vietnam War.
“A House of the Demon” (directed by Yuki Nakamura)
Izu Gokurakuen is a museum on the beautiful Izu peninsula in Japan. It features the Buddhist vision of Hell, as described in the sacred book of Ojoyoshu. It’s a family business, but it’s on a serious mission. Its intent is to scare people out of doing bad things . . . before it’s too late.
“Welcome to Kawah Ijen” (directed by Gloria Kurnik)
The film then transports us to the deadly sulfur mine at Kawah Ijen in Indonesia. Here workers toil for low pay amidst the blue flames and toxic fumes of an active volcano. They dodge oblivious tourists on the long, hazardous trek to and from the mine. Unlike the sightseers, these miners earn their daily bread in Hell.
“From Our Nest” (directed by James Kenney)
The finale occurs in contemporary Congo. Its capital, Kinshasa, is one of the most chaotic places on Earth. It also has some of the world’s largest slums, where beliefs seep into reality, bringing Hell upon their inhabitants.
In particular, it is a Hell for children accused of witchcraft. They are, in fact, victims of terrible crimes, such as sexual abuse, perpetrated by adults. We follow one child’s search for his mother. His quest leads him up the Congo River, into a real-world Heart of Darkness.
A Unique Transmedia Project
“Searching for Hell” is unique as the common creation of five filmmaking teams. Producer, writer, and co-director Pawel Nazaruk coordinated their efforts. Nazaruk’s Dogfilm Studio and Filmmakers’ Pond teamed up manage the process. Despite the many players, the team result is a seamless unity. Production values here are high.
The film uses various forms of cinematic expression to tell its stories. This eclectic approach is powerful. For example, “From Our Nest” uses montage to create an intense and gripping segment. “Welcome to Kawah Ijen” and “A Hole to Hell” begin like scenes from a horror genre film.
“A Postcard from Hell” and “A House of the Demon” seem at first to be traditional documentaries. Yet they allow their subjects to narrate as they see fit, taking the film into their personal and familial pasts. In these segments, there is more than one level to Hell. The camera visits them all.
Another unique aspect of the film is that it documented itself in a comic book, Searching for Hell: Behind the Quest. Writer Dahlia Nokes and artist Andrzej Graniak created the comic in collaboration with the filmmakers. The film’s notable blend of fiction and reality translates well to the medium of sequential art. There’s also an extra story not included in the film.
Premiere and Beyond — Despite Bad Luck
The filmmakers experienced uncanny episodes of bad luck during and after production. Shouldn’t they have expected this? After all, they were making a film about Hell.
Still, the film premiered in 2015 at the Open City Documentary festival in London. There it became the world’s first feature-length documentary shown in virtual reality cinema.
“Searching for Hell” is now available to the public in VR and digital HD formats. Go to the Searching For Hell website to find out where to watch it. Loud Green Bird recommends that you do.
Disclosure: Dahlia Nokes provided access to an online screener, press kit, and images of the film. The purpose was to facilitate this review. No financial considerations were involved.