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. }

The world is a cloud

Recently I figured out how the world works. It is very simple: The world is a cloud.

Image: Jim Avignon

The world is a cloud and around the cloud there is nothing. The Nothing is black. But the Nothing is not just nothing, simultaneously it is everything. The Nothing is the never-ending ocean of all possibilities.

Just like a cloud consists of water molecules, the cloud, which is the world, consists of people. There must be a force that keeps the molecules together, that prevents them from striving into different directions and from getting lost in Nothing. This force exists. It is a type of glue that keeps the human race together. This glue is called communication. People talk to each other. Non-stop and about one topic only: what is the world.

But the cloud is the world. And the cloud is that which connects all humans to each other. Each human being is part of this cloud, just as long as (s)he is in touch with at least one other human being, who is also connected to the cloud. Humans who lose their contact to the cloud drift into Nothing. They lose touch with the world. They are insane, insane to the world.

Most people are surrounded by other people. The density of the cloud at a particular spot is determined by the quantity of these people. New ideas develop at the edge of the cloud. Ideas, inventions, discoveries that change the world. What happens when a person at the edge of the cloud takes one step to the outside? A tiny bit, just big enough that (s)he will not lose the connection to the cloud. (S)he will discover something that has not existed before, something that exists outside the cloud, outside of the world’s consciousness. (S)he would call out “Hey! See what I have discovered!” And if the pioneer manages to convince others, can make them follow her, then something interesting is about to occur: The cloud will change its shape. The cloud changes just one bit and what was external a moment ago is now internal.

New ideas come about constantly. Molecules fly beyond the cloud’s borders non-stop, but only few manage to engage other molecules. Most of them get lost in the Nothing, or fall back to the world after a short excursion, without permanently altering the cloud’s shape at that spot.

The world will sometimes notice that someone had been there before it. For example, Vincent van Gogh. A particularly crazy molecular specimen; a painter who didn’t sell a single painting during his lifetime. Driven mad by drugs he cut off his own ear. An insane man, no doubt about it. But the cloud did move in his direction. Coincidentally perhaps, no one can tell. The world has changed, has discovered his paintings, and suddenly Vincent van Gogh was no longer insane. He was a genius, ahead of the world.

The cloud is constantly changing. It is never the same at any two moments. But the change occurs slowly, and the world has its centers. Religions are such centers, for example, or political systems. And the cloud has many centers. These centers have the effect of an inner center of gravity, making sure that the world does not move too fast. The cloud doesn’t just grow, it also disappears in areas where it had existed before and leaves these areas to the Nothing. For example, the Egyptians’ knowledge and view of the world. We see their pyramids, and yet we cannot grasp what their world must have looked like. From our world of view we can imagine it, but we cannot comprehend it. And our imagination is affected by the current state of the world.

A friend of mine, Sophie, noticed this, too. She said, ‘It is strange, when you watch a movie from the 1950s set in the 1850s, you see the 1950s much more than the year in which it is supposed to take place. Even if in 1950 they tried their best to re-create the year 1850 as authentically as possible. A historical movie that was filmed only 20 years later would look entirely differently, but again it would reflect its date of origin. Obviously the way we view the past changes over time.

The world is a cloud that is constantly changing. One cannot fully grasp it, because as long as one is part of this world one cannot view its exterior to understand its shape. Theoretically you could examine all of the cloud’s molecules. However, this would require a lot of time. Time during which the world would change again. One would have to freeze the world to watch the molecules in peace in order to understand the world this way. But that is not possible either. The whole world is much, much too large. One could try to freeze and understand smaller sections. And this is what we are doing when we take pictures, write text, make recordings. We are trying to freeze small sections of the world in order to understand it.

Translation by Anja Tachler.