Korsakow and all – Interview in Portugal

Entrevista a Florian Thalhofer

Florian Thalhofer is a Berlin-based Artist. He is a documentary filmmaker and the inventor of Korsakow, a software to create a new kind of film and a principle to create a new kind of story. Thalhofer is currently working on a new Korsakow-project (film, show and installation).

Interview by Manuel José Damásio @ Universidade Lusófona.
Recorded Dec 4, 2014

Originaly posted here: http://www.ulusofona.pt/lessons/florian-thalhofer

Korsakow way of thinking

I am convinced, that we have something here, that has the potential to solve a very concrete problem. The problem is, that linear narratives give a very distorted image of reality. The reason for this is that linear narratives are very bad when it comes to communicate grey tones. Hyper linear and linear storytelling (whether interactive or not) loves extremes. Telling things in black and white makes better stories, but does not portrait the world (and its problems) accurately.

There are so very many examples. A friend just sent me two links, one to an excellent interview with a very recognized German journalist who talks about the Ukrainian conflict and his frustration with the inability of journalists to take a sober standpoint, the other link to a trailer of a new Adam Curtis project, where he complains about the dump simplifications of the complexity of the world that lets us see enemies everywhere. The problem of telling things in black and white is that you end up with half the world being your enemy. Telling things in black and white is a necessity of linear storytelling. Korsakow does not like black and white, in fact it has a tendency to find the grey tones. Seeing the grey tones is so damn important. The sustainable solutions for the problems we face are all in the grey zone. Extreme solutions just create more extreme situations.

Please also see:

Adam Curtis:

Master vs. Medium

When I was a child and my father read bedtime stories to me, he always finished with the same question: “And what is the moral of this story?” Then he usually answered the question himself. Suspiciously, the moral of the story was most often related to stuff that had been going on in our family, or in school: To succeed in life, one has to be nice to one’s brothers, do one’s math homework, or help one’s mother do the dishes.

I learned that the moral of the story is a trick the narrator uses to make the listener do something, or believe something, that he thinks is important. As a kid I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously by my father, and even today, when a film comes up with that moral thing, I feel like there is someone disrespecting my brain.

Later in life I became a story-teller myself.

I love to learn about people and I love image and sound. I became a documentary filmmaker. But I don’t want to share a moral, or tell people what thoughts they should have in their brains. Usually, as a documentary filmmaker, I end up in situations where, of all the people that are around, I am the most clueless. So why should I – the clueless one – be the one to explain to an audience how things work?

In 1997, around the time I discovered my interest in storytelling, I also found my fascination with computers. That led to the development of Korsakow. For the last three years I have been working together with Matt Soar and our programmer Dave Reisch who has rewritten the code of Korsakow from scratch, and built the foundation from where we can further develop the application.

For my own work, I almost exclusively use Korsakow and, depending on the way you count it, I have made (depending on how one counts) between 7 and 45 Korsakow-films. Last year, for the first time in my life, I also made a linear film (ie a film that is the very same every time you look at it). This film is called Planet Galata, a portrait of a bridge in Istanbul, and the people living on and around it. Planet Galata was made for French/German broadcaster ARTE, and there are two versions: a linear film and a Korsakow film. It was an amazing experience to make a linear film alongside a Korsakow-film. In a nutshell: The linear version of Planet Galata created some kind of moral, or message. I tried not to, but the film – the format of linear film – made me do it. It is the format of linear film that demands a moral, or a message. The author can fight it, and maybe some great masters of filmmaking sometimes succeed, but linear film is a monster and it demands moral.

An author can be either one or the other:

The master of the story. The author pre-defines, and pre-thinks the experience of the viewer. In a linear film, the author cannot avoid being the master of the story, because, in the end, a linear film has one – and only one – concrete order, and the author has to take full responsibility for it.

That said, also non-linear, multi-path and flexible-structured projects (I call them multi-linear) are usually made by authors who still take the role of masters of the story: The experience of the viewer, the order of things, has been per-thought by the master. The order is certainly more flexible than in a linear film, and these multi-path films do not always look the same, every time you look at them, but nothing happens that the author did not pre-think.

The medium of the story. Here the author prepares the material, the bits and pieces of the story; she can also be present as a voice; she can state her view, or her opinion, just like in any linear film. The difference is that the author creates the rules of the film, but does not pre-think the film. And that allows her to tell stories that are usually very, very difficult to tell in films, stories that are inspirational, but that don’t have a message or moral. – Korsakow is a tool that allows the author to be the medium of the story.

Korsakow allows to create stories – without a moral.

{ This text was originally written for a talk given at Visible Evidence in New York in August 2011. }