The monkey drowns – 8 questions about nonlinear storytelling and Korsakow

Questions by Gülden Tümer

Gülden Tümer has been working as a journalist for more than 10 years. Currently she is doing her master degree at Radio, TV and Cinema Department at Faculty of Communication, İstanbul University.   


GÜLDEN TÜMER: According to Ersan Ocak, “In cinema, explorations and experiments on the forms of representation have been made mostly by documentary and experimental filmmakers” (2012: 959). Here, I want to ask why have documentary filmmakers always sought new forms of representation?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: Not so sure if documentary film makers in general have always been so inventive. I guess most documentary film makers work within the boundaries of the craft of making films and are perfectly happy with the medium of linear film. But some filmmakers felt the concrete walls of linear narration and tried to explore alternatives. In my case I have not been a filmmaker, I started with exploring the possibilities of computer to improve communication between humans using images, audio and film.

So why do documentary filmmakers
So why do filmmakers
So why do humans always sought new forms of representation?

Well, I guess the answer is simply because the forms of representation, that are available, are not satisfying (never have been and most likely never will be). All forms of representation, all forms of communicating, sharing thoughts, views, ideas are less than ideal. So some humans search for better ways to communicate, to find better ways to represent bits and pieces of the world.

Most people just follow the rules, communicate the way they were told by the elders, and if they hit the concrete wall, they ignore it.

GÜLDEN TÜMER: “New media documentary transforms the cultural form of watching a film. The audience engages with new media documentary by navigating. Why do people prefer to be “user” within a documentary film rather than solely sustaining the joyful state of just sitting and watching a film?” (Ocak, 2014: 256). What would be your response to this question for a Korsakow-film?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: Watching a Korsakow-film and watching a linear film are two very different things. Like reading a book and listening to a podcast. It is not that nonlinear films will replace linear films. Nonlinear film just seems to be something that is relatively new. There were experiments with nonlinear films conducted in pre-computer times, but of course computer facilitate the creation of non-linear films much better, and to create rule-based nonlinear films (such as Korsakow films) without a computer is almost impossible.

So what is the motivation for someone to view a Korsakow film?
People who prefer to use their own brain to make sense of a particular topic will prefer a Korsakow film. That way a viewer can explore and get a sense of the many angles to a topic.
(own brain / many angles / complex reality)

What is the motivation for someone to view a linear film?
Someone (usually the film-maker) thought a long time about a topic and presents the viewer with one or a very limited number of angles to understand it. This is very convenient for most people. So viewers do not have to spend so much energy or brain power – the thoughts are thought already and prepared for them.
(author’s  brain / limited angles / simplified reality)

Also, almost all living humans were conditioned from early age to enjoy linear films. Kids grow up with linear films and learn to read, understand and enjoy it.

But nevertheless some people have a hard time accepting other people’s thoughts. Some people really enjoy to think for themselves. But at the moment we have not so many tools that facilitate that. Korsakow is such a tool.

For people who are interested in reality, linear film is in fact not such a great tool. I like to say: there is no such thing as a documentary film. Every linear film is fiction. Linearity does not exist in reality.

GÜLDEN TÜRER: On the other hand why do people still prefer just watching a fiction film? Or do you think it will change too?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: I guess people will always be interested in watching linear fiction films. It seems somehow relaxing to be presented with a fixed and never changing angle on the world.

GÜLDEN TÜRER: You said that people doesn’t think in a linearity so storytelling must be in change. What are the advantages and disadvantages of non-linear storytelling?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: Stories have the advantage that they make things easily understandable. But at the same time they have the disadvantage that they are almost always wrong (or at least that they are far from being accurate).

Nonlinear narration is not true, neither, but it is closer to reality. And that we are closer to reality, when we are thinking trough and discussing the problems we currently face (like nuklear extinction, climate change), is probably the key factor when it comes to finding solutions that allow our survival.

GÜLDEN TÜRER: “In a new media documentary, the user can establish his/her own sequence flow and, in a sense, makes a non-linear editing of the project” (Ocak, 2012: 963). But we know that in this era, we all surf on the internet. And it causes distraction. In spite of this distraction problem, can the audience complete all parts of documentary or not?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: Distraction has a very negative connotation. But maybe distraction is not a bad thing. Especially in times of information overload.

Imagine a thirsty monkey, who gets to a lake. The monkey drinks. When the monkey had enough the monkey stops drinking. Does the monkey get distracted from drinking? Sure. Something else crosses the monkey’s mind and the monkey stops drinking and does something else. If the monkey would stay focussed on drinking, the monkey would drown.

An aware mind that changes the focus of attention is still attentive. And that is a good thing.

Human monkeys, that focus – for example – on propaganda stories and don’t get distracted, are in a worse situation than those, that feel like they had enough and focus elsewhere.

It might be easy to stay focused when watching a seductive, exciting linear film, but the whole film, the whole experience is a distraction.


GÜLDEN TÜRER: We can say that in new media documentaries, which are established on databases, “each and every shot has equal significance, each and every story has equal significance” (Ocak, 2012: 963). Here I want to ask that if a user without completing one part, start to watch another one because of surfing habit, can she/he understand whole story?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: I think there are different approaches in new media documentaries and different authors have different approaches. The way I use Korsakow (and again there are other approaches) – I can see that you think that every SNU has equal significance. I never looked at it that way. Interesting observation!

In a linear film – because of its fixed sequence – one scene builds on the previous scene,  the scenes build up. In that sense, some scenes are elevated. Only in a system like Korsakow you can achieve to have scenes on an equal level. And usually I try to have it like this.

If the author wants to deliver a message, the viewer has to get the whole (or if not the whole then most of the) story. But I don’t want to deliver a message. There are things to learn, actually there are many potential messages, but the message is born in the viewer’s brain, not in mine.

Once, when I presented my first Korsakow film [Das Korsakow Syndrom], I was asked: And what is the message of the film? – I did not have an answer then, but I have it now, after thinking about it for many years: The film is the message. If I had a message, I would have writen it down in a sentence. Writing down a sentence is far less effort than making a film.

GÜLDEN TÜRER: “Today we can easily see that, play is everywhere in the new media environment” (Ocak, 2014: 258). Audience is not just a user within documentary film, she/he also becomes a player as a homo-ludens. Do you think it can prevent distraction?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: From the reactions I often observe when people watch Korsakow films, they seem to experience it more as work, than play.

Anyway, even from early age on, I never understood what the difference between play and work is. Now I would say both is an exercise – an exercise to shape the form of the connections in our brains. You create paths of thinking in your brain when watching a blockbuster Hollywood film or when watching a Korsakow film. You train your thinking.

To my understanding: watching a blockbuster Hollywood is harmful for your thinking, whereas Korsakow is a good exercise!

GÜLDEN TÜRER: I watched your Planet Galata, and I like it too much. Why you make some changes on it?


FLORIAN THALHOFER: Thank you – happy you like it! Planet Galata was originally made with Korsakow Version 5. I recently updated it to Korsakow 6. Korsakow 6 has a number of new possibilities. I was playing around with it.

A Korsakow film is never fixed!




Ocak, E. (2012). New Forms of Documentary-Filmmaking within New Media. AVANCA|CINEMA 2012, International Conference (2012). (959-965)

Ocak, E. (2014). New Media Documentary: Playing with Documentary Film within the Database Logic and Culture. In D. Moser and S. Dun (Ed.), Digital Janus: Looking Forward, Looking .Back (255-262). Oxford, United Kingdom: Inter-Disciplinary Press.

Der Mythos vom Short Attention Span

Ungefähr im Jahr 2003 habe ich es auf einer Konferenz das erste mal gehört – die Nutzer des Internets würde an einer seltsamen Krankheit leiden. Während einer Podiumsdiskussion in Amsterdam fragte ein Experte ob Internet-User einen Short-Attention-Span hätten. Die Zuhörer schienen die Frage zu mögen. Von da an hörte man den Gedanken immer öfter. Immer mehr Experten stellten sich auf Bühnen und proklamierten, dass der moderne Mensch sich nicht mehr lange konzentrieren könne.

Daraufhin wurden über mehr als eine Dekade die Inhalte in allen Medien (nicht nur im Internet) auf diesen Typus des unkonzentrierten Konsumenten zugeschnitten. Die Inhalte, wurden kürzer, prägnanter und Journalisten, Politiker und später sogar Fachleute genierten sich nicht, komplexe Sachverhalte völlig zu verstümmeln – vorgeblich der besseren Verständlichkeit dienend.

Mittlerweile glauben Millionen von Menschen simplifizierenden Erklärungen. Sie fühlen sich informiert und wissend, sind gegenüber komplexeren Gedanken grundsätzlich skeptisch. Wieso sollte man etwas kompliziert sagen, wenn man es auch einfach ausdrücken kann? Die Menschen wurden über die Jahre konditioniert, das Einfache zu bevorzugen und das Komplizierte abzutun.

Als ich damals das Argument vom Short-Attention-Span hörte, fühlte ich mich unwohl. Doch es sollte Jahre dauern, bis ich in der Lage war, in Worten auszudrücken, woher dieses Unwohlsein stammte. Die Beobachtung war falsch und der Grund ist ganz einfach:

Wenn eine Person einen ganzen Abend lang kurze YouTube-Clips ansieht, hat sie dann einen Short-Attention-Span? Mit Sicherheit nicht, im Gegenteil. Sie schenkt einer Übung stundenlange Aufmerksamkeit. Das Argument damals war, dass die einzelnen Erzähleinheiten nur kurz waren, das war z.T. technisch bedingt. Längere Clips konnten damals nicht hochgeladen werden. Das war nicht zuletzt der begrenzten Bandbreite des damaligen Internets geschuldet. Nichtsdestotrotz war das Argument auch zu seiner Zeit blödsinnig. Warum sollte die Aufmerksamkeit eines Menschen geringer geschätzt sein, der sich 90 Minuten mit YouTube beschäftigt, als jemandem, der einen 90 minütigen, linearen Film ansieht? Ein Film besteht auch aus verschiedensten Szenen, Gedankensprüngen und assoziativen Verbindungen.

Die damalige Annahme, der moderne Medienkonsument wolle kurze und knackige Informationen auf Kosten von Tiefe und Differenziertheit wurde im Laufe der Zeit so etwas wie eine selbsterfüllende Prophezeiung. Die Medieninhalte wurden immer oberflächlicher, dadurch wurden immer mehr Menschen zu Oberflächlichkeit herangezogen.

Warum ist diese Frage immer noch von Bedeutung?
Eigentlich könnte man denken, es sei doch egal, was zuerst war, der oberflächliche Mensch oder die oberflächliche Kommunikation. Denn heute seien Millionen von Menschen wenig komplex im Denken und für diese Menschen sei die oberflächliche Kommunikation genau richtig.

Medienunternehmen gehen davon aus, dass der Mediennutzer komplizierte Inhalte scheut, wie der Teufel das Weihwasser. Man blickt auf Statistiken und zieht Klickzahlen zu rate. Doch auf die Knickzahlen zu starren ist wie in die Sonne zu schauen – man wird blind. Und so übersehen die Medienmacher etwas grundsätzliches. Die Klicks werden von denen generiert, die sich an die Konventionen des Oberflächlichen angepasst haben. Die anderen klicken nicht, oder dort, wo es die Mainstream Medienmacher nicht sehen.

Sam Harris ist Philosoph, Neurowissenschaftler und Podcaster. In seinen Podcasts macht er alles nach allen Regeln der Kunst falsch. Die Gespräche, die er führt, sind ausufernd, kompliziert, er überlegt sich nicht, was das Publikum hören will, seine Themen entsprechen seinen eigenen Vorlieben. Vor kurzem führte er ein Interview mit einem Physiker, in der Einleitung sagte Sam Harris, Studenten der Mathematik hätten sicherlich ihre Freude daran, allen anderen seiner Zuhörer empfahl er, sich den Podcast zwei mal anzuhören. Der Podcast dauerte mehr als 1 ½ Stunden.

Das grundsätzlich neue des Internets ist, dass es annähernd unendlich tief ist, dass es anders als bei früheren Medien wie Radio, Fernsehen, Film, Zeitung oder Büchern keine zeitlichen Beschränkungen gibt. Milliarden von Menschen haben Zugang und immer mehr Menschen lernen, durch die Oberflächlichkeit hinabzutauchen.

Sam Harris erstellt seine Podcasts mit einfachsten technischen Mitteln. Seine Gesprächspartner sind Koryphäen in den verschiedensten Feldern, sie kommen gerne zu ihm, weil er ihnen die Zeit gibt, in die Tiefe zu gehen und keine blödsinnigen Vereinfachungen fordert.

Sam Harris erreicht mit jedem seiner Podcasts ca. 1 Million Hirne.

Istanbul 2017

When I was invited to give a keynote talk at Istanbul University and being member of a jury for an international documentary award, I was hesitant. Turkey’s president Erdoğan and his supporters are currently doing everything to get rid of democracy. People in Turkey that dare to criticise this, lose their jobs, many are put in jail, it is a frightening development for the future of Turkey as well as Europe.

By traveling to Istanbul and publicly speaking, would I somehow help to whitewash or normalize what is going on? On the other hand, would it help to reject my invitation and not exchange ideas with people? Who are this people? They could be collaborators with a political movement, that I deeply disagree with. They might. But I don’t know, because I never met them. And if they are, if they are collaborating with the system, is it really helpful to not get into a conversation? I don’t know.

I asked three people for advice, who live in Turkey. Their vote was 2:1 that I should go. Also I was terribly interested to get a first hand impression of how things have changed since I was the last time in Istanbul, 7 years ago. So I decided to go, together with my partner.

When I told friends in Berlin, everyone had an opinion. I should be really careful with what I say publicly. Actually my talks are about film making and storytelling. Most people think that the the reality shapes the way we tell stories, but my point is that it is the other way around: reality is the result of our stories. One consequences of my argument is that there is no truth, and the consequence of that is that there is no god. “You should be careful, to say such things”, my friends in Berlin said, “and you should also think about the consequences, your words might have for the people that invited you.”

Hmm. I think you get on slippery ground when you start to think for other people. And when you start to not say things, that you would say, but you think others might not like it. But what is it exactly, it that others don’t like. And where exactly is the border? What can you still say and what what not? You can only guess. But what is that guesswork based on? In my case – not much more than stereotypes. The bits of information that I get from Turkey amidst a stream of information that I constantly get from places all around the world. I have the feeling I know, but I generally know, for sure I don’t know enough.

All these thoughts in mind I traveled to Istanbul.

Being at a film-festival as an official guest is always very interesting. There are cool people from every direction coming to such a venue. As an official guest, you get introduced to those interesting people, which is especially great for me, as I don’t like to introduce myself.

It started right at the airport Istanbul, when we were picked up. We entered a fascinating discussion that would last for days with another guest that was picked up with us. The people that worked for the venue were great, as well. People that work for film-festivals are a special breed of people, it seems, if the festival is in cooperation with an government broadcaster in a wannabe-totalitarian regime or not.

At the opening “cocktail party“ only lemonade was served. Why on earth was it announced as cocktail party? After I lost my shyness on stepping on other people’s toes, this became a source of numerous jokes. This festival was a dry film festival. During the days of my duty as a member of the jury I did not leave the Hilton for three days. I had more juice than it is healthy and swayed from buffet to buffet, going to bed early. We were a group of six watching and discussing the films, seated in a circle. The jury meetings felt like group therapy sessions. the Hilton like a sanatorium – the Magic Mountain, while the world around falls apart, unnoticed.

Mentioning the absence of alcohol in a private conversation became the litmus test of figuring out, where the person stands, in regards to the system. “Oh, of course you can get alcohol, let me order you a glass of wine” was one of the two reactions I got and I learned that people close to the system said that. With others mentioning the absence of alcohol would open a conversation about how the country had changed in the last years.

Things look normal but tension can be felt everywhere. I gave a talk at a time-honored university. Wonderful place, after my talk friendly applause but no Q&A.

I gave a second talk at the festival. This was more of a presentation of the Korsakow software, but as always, when I present the software, I also talk about its philosophy. The audience was like a sponge, eager to take in what I had to say about new ways of constructing reality and new ways of thinking. This time there was a Q&A and the questions were great.

Istanbul still feels to me like a European city, and I now think it was a big mistake that Europe was not more welcoming to Turkey. If Turkey would now be a member of the European Union, it would not walk the path it seems to be doomed to take now.

Many people I talked to (the ones who did not immediately want to prove to me that alcohol is available) are very pessimistic. Many of them have a plan to leave the country. “The decision is taken, already,” someone said, “Turkey will become like Iran.”

One thing I can’t let go of: There is no law in place to get rid of alcohol, there is not even an order. People behave in a way, that they think pleases the authorities. It is not the power that demands that. It is the people thinking that the power likes it, and therefore paving the path for the powerful, teaching the powerful how to go further.


There are no wrong decisions and there are no right decisions.

Decisions are taken in small fractions – too small to be relevant.

When you zoom in to a moment in time, where a particular decision is taken, there are always decisions before that moment. Earlier decisions, that led to the moment when this decision was possible, and before that were lots of other moments, when small decisions were taken. Lots of micro-decision so to say. And every micro-decision had alternatives. When was the exact moment, when George W Bush decided to go to war against Iraq? For sure not when he went down the aisle in the White House towards the podium, where the cameras were waiting. So when did he take that decision? You could go back in time further and further, maybe “the real” decision was taken by someone before Bush. Whatever moment you would want to identify, there were decisions taken before that, that were necessary to create a world in which the next decision was in the space of possibilities.

But we agree, there was a decision to go to war. But what we mean with “decision” is basically a cluster of micro-decisions, stretched over a longer or shorter period of time.

Why is this important?
We speak of a decision and we are used to conceptually nail it down to a point on a timeline. The logic of the timeline (in this talk I called it “Hollywood logic”) suggests that a decision, once taken, can not be changed (because it is in the past). But if you think of paths instead of decision-points – you can always adjust a path, even without leaving it, as the path is created while you are moving. Even after Bush declared the war, he could have changed the path at any point in time, after he has observed that the direction taken, leads into misery.

But the audience (trained in Hollywood thinking) does not appreciate politicians changing their mind once they made “a decision”. Because of that politicians feel like they have to stick to their decisions. Politicians seem to spend a lot of energy on ignoring observations, because they don’t want to look like they took a wrong decision.

In a world, where the concept of a decision does not exist, you can not take a wrong decision. You can easily adjust your path when you feel you are getting into hot waters. That goes for politicians and of course for everyone else. As observation shows, the weird concept of decision-points on a timeline – with each decision with potentially scary consequences – makes it had to adjust paths, leads to bad results and makes people miserable.

The simple way out: Look at it like that: Every moment holds many possibilities – whatever decisions you took in the past.