In June 2010, Jacqueline Wallace, a member of the CINER-G research team, interviewed Korsakow inventor Florian Thalhofer by email about his creative and philosophical approach to Korsakow filmmaking. They touched on some of Florian’s current projects, some of them involving other creators.
JW: You’ve now created numerous K-films. How do you approach each new film? What is your creative process and how has it changed or evolved over the years? Do you work by a set of guiding principles or creative intentions?
FT: When I start a new project I try to forget everything that I know about it. I try to push my own opinions into the background and look at things from the viewpoint of the people that I talk to; to think their thoughts. I try to make my own thinking-process accessible, talking about my thoughts, associations, and sometimes memories that are triggered by what I hear and see from the people I talk to. The technical process of the making of the film is also part of the project. The recording devices might get into the image, or the protagonist moves out of the frame, to make clear there is a camera that is recording this situation. There is a person behind the camera. What you see here happened, but it might have happened differently if there was no camera. I talk about the technical process, the things that happen behind the scenes.
I don’t want to claim that what I am showing is the truth. I don’t believe in truth. Every individual develops his or her own sense of reality. It is a human need to exchange ideas about reality. We can learn so much from other peoples’ views because other peoples’ eyes see things from a different angle. Another person might see options and possibilities that you—from your point of view—cannot see. This is even more so, when you talk to people from another culture or background. The further that somebody is away from your own thinking, the more radical the options you get for your own life, but also the more difficult it is to get a clear picture of what the person “really” means. It is like looking at a sculpture: you see what you see from your angle. When you talk to someone right next to you about what he sees, you can imagine it quite well. But when you talk to someone at the other side of the sculpture and he describes what he sees, it is hard for you to imagine exactly what he sees. But of course the view from the other side tells you so much more about the sculpture. Of course, I am not looking at sculptures, I try to look at life. ;-)
JW: Korsakow is an open source technology. What was the philosophy behind this path and what is your vision for getting other K-filmmakers engaged? What other new technologies or devices do you see might intersect with Korsakow in the future (e.g. iPad, other devices?).
FT: A Korsakow-film needs a computer to be played. All of the new platforms that deliver film-like formats can be computer-based. Excellent delivery-platforms for Korsakow-films are computer-based and interactive by nature. There are two main reasons why people still like the idea of watching a linear movie on an iPad or another computer-driven device: it is because we all grew up with this concept; with this way of linear thinking. This is why most people still enjoy linear films. And of course, there is a big film industry out there at the peak of its power, producing and designing carefully crafted linear films, employing huge teams of people. The biggest budget for a Korsakow-film—to my knowledge—was around 25,000 Euro, and the project was basically done by a team of two. Most Korsakow-films are no-budget or super-low-budget. Interestingly, there are more and more people very seriously using Korsakow, because more and more people feel a need to use an alternative way of story telling.
I started to make the Korsakow software 10 years ago without getting distracted by the thoughts of how to deliver these films to an audience. When I sent the first Korsakow-film (Das Korsakow-Syndrom) to festivals, I sent it on hard-drives. Now of course the main distribution platform is the internet. At the time Korsakow started, it needed quite a vision to imagine a world of broadband-internet. I did not have that vision, I simply did not care… . Today it is not even a problem to stream high-quality video to mobile devices. This is amazing. All these new platforms feel like they were invented for the distribution of Korsakow-films.
For many years I developed Korsakow on my own, but I reached my limits. I am not a professional, not even a talented programmer. I was not a good enough programmer to realize my vision. Luckily I then met Matt Soar from Concordia University. He popped up on Skype one day and asked me how I was doing with Korsakow. Korsakow is now an open-source software because this step provided the possibility to further develop Korsakow professionally, without thinking about business plans. The future will show if that was a good decision. The other option would have been to start a company and create a commercial software. But to be honest: I am a lousy businessman and there is something about money that scares me quite a bit.
JW: I see that you’re blogging about the ‘Hilfe, Freiheit!’ project? Can you tell me more about this project and your investments in it? From the blog posts I see that the subject of freedom is explored via various lenses (religion, work, school). Can you tell me more about these explorations and their significance to you as a media artist? How have you engaged audiences and what has been the reaction among participants?
FT: The question of ‘freedom’ and how we deal with it is a key question within Korsakow. Compared to film, Korsakow gives more freedom. Nevertheless you feel that there are and have to be rules. This is the same in democratic societies. Our society allows more and more freedom but within this freedom we need to create rules. On an individual level, as well as on the level of a society as a whole. Korsakow is a great format to research the topic of freedom. Over a period of almost two years we did 16 Korsakow-Shows, most of them at the Münchner Kammerspiele theatre in Munich. We—that is, mainly writer Tobias Hülswitt and myself—met many years ago in Cairo. Tobias was trying to find new ways of storytelling in his writing. He also felt the negative power of linear storytelling very strongly. We became friends in Egypt, looking at our culture from the viewpoint of Muslim society, where it became obvious that our freedom is also a burden. It needs a lot of energy, a lot of thinking and a lot of discussion to find out what you want to do with your freedom, and what it is better that you don’t do. In a more restrictive society, life is—in that sense—much more simple: you just follow the rules. My Egyptian friend Mahmoud made a convincing argument that this can be a way to lead a very happy life.
The Korsakow-Show is basically a Korsakow in a theatre. The audience is part of the piece. We prepare Korsakow-interview-films for each show where we ask “normal” people about the specific topic. The audience can then elect which clip should be played. Two experts on the particular topics are present during the show. If they want to comment on something, they press a button, a light turns on and they can then also be “selected” by the audience. The audience has the possibility to comment via text-messages and by using a microphone. There is no presenter; the audience takes over the role of the presenter. The series was very successful. We started it as an experiment. We were not sure if people would engage, but they did; every show was very different. The experts on stage also liked this direct feedback very much. There is a lot more I could say about this. It was really amazing to see that there were fundamental similarities in how a Korsakow-Film and a Korsakow-Show is perceived. It was fascinating! [Ed. note: 16 Korsakow 'Talk-Shows' were conducted, from October 2008 to April 2010.]
JW: What else are you working on now?
FT: The ARTE TV project, Planet Galata, is the biggest project I have ever done. It is a portrait of a bridge and the people working on and around that bridge in Istanbul. First, a Video-Weblog was started. Then, a Korsakow-film. Third, there will be a linear version of this Korsakow-film to be broadcast on TV. It is a very intensive experience. First of all the project itself is complex, with all the people involved, but also the new experience of having a production-company and TV-editors that have a very different approach towards how to make a film, than I have with my approach when I make a Korsakow-film. It is almost a clash of cultures and we are all learning a lot in this project. I am now right in the middle of it, so I don’t know how I will look at it in retrospect, but at the moment I am enjoying it a lot. It is an exhausting, but very productive process. [Ed. note: See the project for yourself, at Planet Galata.]
JW: Have you seen Kat Cizek’s and the National Film Board’s new project called Highrise ? The project is a veritable interactive media platform and is introducing new approaches to documentary that defy traditional definitions. What do you think?
FT: I have known Kat for many years and I very much like her projects. I just met up with her in Toronto where I learned about her new project. Kat and I are both fascinated by the possibilities of the new technologies in similar ways. I love Kat’s work because there is a clarity to it that is missing in most online-projects that try to use all the technological gadgets without really thinking why. There is no technological pink noise in her work.
JW: Where do you see interactive filmmaking and database documentaries going in the future?
FT: I don’t feel comfortable with the term “interactive filmmaking” but it would take too long to go into this now. I think in the near future there will be no linear documentaries as we know them today. From the perspective of Korsakow, a linear film is also a Korsakow-film, it’s just one with a very special behavior. The rules of a linear film are so strict: the film plays in the same order, every time you look at it. And why should you want that? Liebe Grüße, Florian