Voice-Driven VR Film ‘Kusunda’ Teaches You A Dying Language
Nowhere Media’s breath-taking volumetric VR film makes its world debut at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Described by expert linguists as a “language isolate,” the Kusunda language is completely unique to that of other dialects. Unfortunately, there are only about 150 individuals in Nepal who still identify as Kusunda. As a result, this historic language finds itself on the edge of extinction.
This was the inspiration behind Kusunda, a voice-driven VR film centered around the indigenous community of Kusunda located in the landlocked country of Nepal in South Asia. Available for viewing at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Nowhere Media’s volumetric VR film shines a spotlight on the historic language by immersing you in the lives of Lil Bahadur, an 86-year-old Kusunda shaman, and his 15-year-old granddaughter Hima, as the pair shine a spotlight on the Kusunda language and culture.
Brought to life via a combination of breath-taking volumetric video and digital animation, this eye-opening VR film teaches audiences about Lil Bahadur’s 40-years as a hunter-gatherer, from his symbiotic relationship with the jungles of Nepal to his transition from nomad to settler. We also gain an intimate look at the life and ambitions of Hima, who represents the next generation of the Kusunda people. Studying under the recently-deceased Gyani Maiya, one of the few native speakers of the Kusunda language, it falls on Hima to revitalize the dying language.
“We met Gyani Maiya about ten years ago and were immediately struck by her presence and the wealth of the story of the Kusunda people and language,” said the project’s co-creator Felix Gaedtke. “Together with her, we went on a long journey and the piece is what has come out of that journey. Since neither Gayatri nor I are part of the Kusunda community, co-creation was a core part of creating this piece. This is not an easy thing to do, especially working with technologies where there is an imbalance in knowledge of how it is working. But workshopping and many conversations helped to be able to create something together.”
“The community and especially our co-creators were really enthusiastic to find ways to engage a global audience in their culture and language. It was our co-creator Hima who really wanted the world to speak a few words in Kusunda in solidarity with their efforts to wake the language up while learning more about their culture. I really wish for her to see that people in the US are now doing just that.”
The filmmakers hiked an hour to the remote hills of Nepal to film the project. As Lil Bahadur and Hima share their life stories, viewers are given the opportunity to learn a few phrases from the Kusunda language via a series of voice-driven interactions. These moments also create a branching narrative of sorts, allowing viewers the chance to experience different moments from their lives depending on which phrases they choose to vocalize. While the interactions themselves are brief, it’s these moments that truly immerse you in the experience, offering you the rare opportunity to hear and speak a language on the verge of “falling asleep.”
“This piece is about a community making efforts to revitalize their language against all odds,” added project co-creator Gayatri Parameswaran. “Apart from many other challenges that we faced during the process, producing virtual reality during a pandemic was also an added hurdle. We had to work remotely with our co-creators in Nepal who don’t have the same access to internet connectivity for instance and that was difficult. But a VR documentary like any other needs you to trust in the process and allow it to guide you.”
Kusunda will be available for viewing both in-person at Spring Studios in NYC as well as virtually via The Museum of Other Realities.
Feature Image Credit: Nowhere Media