Ian Purnell - 28 mins | Germany, 2018

In a replica of a segment of the new Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland, the underground landscape becomes a site for filmic and sensory experimentation in which we are immersed for a hypnotic and ironic journey. Facts dissolve within the realm of phobias and science fiction.

Available from 29.06

Available in all territories

Competition Unconventional Storytelling


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Ian Purnell (b. 1988 in Basel, CH) is a film maker and film editor. He studied experimental and documentary film in the postgraduate program of the Academy of Media Arts Cologne (KHM) from 2013 to 2017 after receiving a BA of Arts in Montage from the University of Film and Television Potsdam-Babelsberg. He works in the fields of documentary filmmaking, theatre and visual art.

Director Statement

The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland is the world’s longest rail tunnel and the self-proclaimed "safest tunnel in the world“. This film was shot in a replica of a segment of the tunnel that was built for emergency exercises and also functions as a leisure and tourist attraction. Combining performative elements such as a simulation of a rescue operation, observational scenes of tourist groups and architectural 3D visualizations THE FEAR OF DYING IN TRANSIT circles around the tunnel as a manmade structure in relation to the humans who built it. For the film I worked together with one of Switzerland’s most successful hypnosis therapists, who specializes in treating tunnel phobia, and makes her practice part of the film’s narration; as well as a Russian-Alaskan businessman to whom I give a platform for his proclamation of a future in which tunnels will be the only way of getting from one place to an other.

The people appearing in the film seem somewhat lost in the gigantic tunnel structures. Janna Horstmann, an actor, moves as a kind of Avatar between the different layers of the film in the interest of curing her own actual phobia of tunnels. In the last part of the film we see her, together with a fellow performer, going through a routine that forms part of the rehearsals for the opening ceremony of the Gotthard Base Tunnel. At that ceremony, we hear the Swiss head of state announcing the safe opening of the tunnel while we see performers dressed up as workers with a projection of the tunnel forming the backdrop. In THE FEAR OF DYING IN TRANSIT, the real and the simulated are often indistinguishable. This evokes somewhat absurd and humorous moments and also makes us distrustful – we ourselves begin to feel "unsafe".