Mystic Methods in Creation

Midi Onodera (back to camera) presents her K-film to workshoppers (L>R) Matt Soar, Phil Hoffman, Nicole Robicheau, Vicki Lean, Dayna McLeod, Ryan Cadrette

Collaborators in Adventures in Research Creation (ARC) met again in Montreal on January 27 & 28 for further explorations into Korsakow. Midi Onodera and Phil Hoffman were back in town from Toronto, with Vicki Lean, MFA candidate in Film Production at York, and MBA, who is working as Phil’s assistant on this project. Vicki has made a Korsakow film using her father’s 8mm home-movie footage (which we’re now curious to see), so she’s well-placed to assist on Phil’s new K-film project. Phil is working with the late Marion McMahon’s archive, including her unfinished film project as well as various stories, notes and images from her personal archive. Midi continued to work on Midi’s Mystic Oracle of Axioms which she has just completed and will be revealing on her own website on Feb 29, so make sure you consult about your future later this month! has now launched: Midi’s Mystic Oracle of Axioms.

Working methods seemed to be this workshop’s implicit lesson as we peeked into the “back end” of people’s projects, the “Main Window” and “SNU Editors” that reveal a project’s architecture and the methods in the making: How many actual SNUs (smallest narrative units) were used, what keywords and what are their interrelationships? Midi talked about making the Mystic Oracle as a learning exercise to better comprehend first-hand how the K-system functioned. Her beautiful use of complex graphics and sounds evoke a clairvoyant’s mystic fortune tellings, an interesting paradox between the seemingly ephemeral psychic ability to see into the future and the rigourous structure that in fact guides one prediction to another in a strictly-determined set of relations.

Phil describes his working process; Vicki on left, programmer Dave Reisch and Midi in f/g

While Midi’s project seemed one of deliberate construction and careful building and progressive adding on, Phil talked about the voluminous materials from Marion’s archive, and the relative freedom that Korsakow allowed in simply incorporating materials without excessive deliberation, and then inviting another force to be at work in decision-making and movement from SNU to SNU once broad keywords provided some thematizing. (Technically speaking, this would be Korsakow’s algorithms, but Phil seemed to leave this more open…) So, his film could work at multiple registers through keywording: archives, poetics, journaling, travel… Not unlike his earlier films (think ?O, Zoo!)

Also joining us this round was Nicole Robicheau, who is doing her MA in Media Studies in Communication Studies at Concordia, and working on a fascinating project about the Canada-US border at Stanstead QC and Derbyline VT. Employing voice interviews with locals in both towns and still photographs she took while doing fieldwork, Nicole is using Korsakow for the first time. Yet her seamless sound editing, her impeccable sound quality and rich content wouldn’t give this away (demonstrating her experience as a journalist for CBC). Using photographic ‘stills’ and keeping a listener/viewer engaged is no small feat, which she’s attained already in these early stages. The insights into the changing nature of this border are numerous, as local townspeople from both sides tell of the border’s history and increasing surveillance since 9/11.

Hard at work on Day 1 (L>R), Dayna, Nicole, Phil, Vicki, Monika, Midi

ARC co-director Matt Soar also presented some of his preliminary SNUs for Ceci n’est pas Embres, mesmerizing rotoscoped images of road travels, still-photo collages with voice-over conversations of he and his family from winter 2010 in the miniscule town of Embres in France. He’s been working with editor, Dayna McLeod, who was also present and gave mini-workshops on subtitles and her signature ‘pop’ editing style of jump-cutting interviews, Korsakow programmer Dave Reisch dropped by on Day 2, and I (Monika Kin Gagnon), was also there, trying out the latest version ‘candidate,’ Korsakow 5.0.6, while playing with my films for Dayna’s amazing weekly video production challenge, 52 pick-up. We meet again in April.

Auspicious Beginnings

Adventures in Research Creation (ARC) had auspicious beginnings last week. Our eminent collaborators, filmmakers Midi Onodera and Phil Hoffman, joined us in Montreal for a two-day Korsakow workshop on Oct 13 & 14, with resident facilitator/artist/coach, Dayna McLeod, who provided one-on-two orientation to the Korsakow system, which we’ve invited them to explore. While seasoned filmmakers Midi and Phil, initially expressed some initial apprehension about the relation of the Korsakow system to their practices, they both launched with sweet abandon into the realm of what I nicknamed in making a Korsakow film: the ether (dreamland of ideas, love it here), production (compress your damned SNU in the right codec!) and the abyss of Korsakow mechanics (apologies to Florian and Dave, who do always make it work).

Midi is well-known since 2006 for her disciplined, calendar-structured movie-making for mobile media, with projects such as 365 Short Videos (a movie-a-day created in 2006–07), Movie of the Week (2009) and this year’s FPS which is entirely composed of still images. Movie of the Week is currently on view at the Communication Studies Media Gallery at Concordia, soon to be reviewed by anamorphic media artist extraordinaire and new PhD student, Alison Emiko Loader, in the online peer-reviewed, Imaginations. (You’ll find an earlier interview with Midi here.) During the workshop, Midi deconstructed a recently completed linear film, which she shot in Tuscany this summer (feature-length in Onodera-n terms, at 10 minutes). But then shockingly concluded that her experiment hadn’t worked! The linear hadn’t so simply migrated or unbundled itself into the non-linear. Ah, sweet sound to my ears, as I’m anxiously awaiting that she begin experimenting with her footage and photos from Afghanistan where she was artist-in-residence with the Canadian Forces in September 2010. (After her talk at our department in mid-September I asked her what she’d do differently if she were able to go for a re-shoot? “I’d duct-tape iPhones and iPads to my body so they’d be ready to go at any moment, in any direction.”

Phil was originally going to be ‘translating’ his remarkable analogue non-linear 16mm film projects, Opening Series into Korsakow, but hesitated when he decided that they were deeply committed to film (that is, the material pellicule, and the physical act of splicing that precedes each screening), and he has now changed tack. (He presented an Opening Series at our DNA Symposium in May 2011.) Phil arrived with a little red suitcase that weighed a ton, and has another project in mind that he experimented with while here. I’ll only say that it is an unfinished film that has been patiently waiting for 15 years. Korsakow may demonstrate itself to be the perfect remedy.

Visible City Project + Archive director Janine Marchessault was also in town, and she and I observed that we had radically different filmmakers at work: Midi’s fast-paced online persona gives us everyday glimpses in regulated doses, while Phil’s deliberative approach is like watching an iceberg, wherein much lies below the surface.

It was great to have our graduate students, Irene Serrano-Vazquez and Ryan Cadrette with us. Irene just started in our Joint PhD Progamme and is here from Madrid where she will continue her work as a journalist; she will be doing research on transmedia storytelling. Ryan is an MA student in our department doing research on interactive narrative, and was busily working on a Korsakow film for Matt’s course, the Media Research Lab. Our next touchdown is November 11.

— Monika Kin Gagnon

Database | Narrative | Archive

The deadline for submissions to D|N|A was December 15th 2010. We received some superb proposals – over fifty in total – to our CFP ( here in English et français). We are now finalizing the program and informing applicants of the outcome of our selection process, which proved to be very challenging! And, as soon as we have the program sorted we will post it here.


Finally, for now, a huge thank you to everyone who expressed interest in this event.

Appel de propositions: D|N|A (Université Concordia, 13 au 15 Mai 2011)

Un symposium international sur les trames narratives digitales non-linéaires
Appel de propositions révisé

Université Concordia, Montréal (13-15 Mai 2011)


Intervenants principaux :
Marsha Kinder (Professeure d’Études Critiques, École des Arts Cinématographiques, USC; Directrice Exécutive du Labyrinth Project)
Katerina Cizek (Documentariste expérimentale récipiendaire de plusieurs prix; Filmmaker in Residence, Office National du Film du Canada)

Incluant une présentation non-linéaire et interactive de Florian Thalhofer (Berlin; documentariste; inventeur du système Korsakow)

Participants confirmés: Hart Cohen (UWS), Adrian Miles (RMIT), Steve Anderson (USC), David Clark (NSCAD), Tim Schwab (CINER-G), Elena Razlogova (CINER-G), Jason Lewis (CINER-G, Obx Labs), Monika Kin Gagnon (CINER-G, co-organisatrice), Matt Soar (CINER-G, co-organisateur).

Reflétant de nouveaux développements touchant la théorie et la production de nouveaux média, notamment les documentaires utilisant une base de données, les trames narrative interactives et l’archivage expérimental, D|N|A souhaite se pencher sur les plus importantes questions et idéologies caractérisant cette pratique émergeante – ce qui influencera probablement la formation future d’un ensemble clé de propriétés ou de dynamiques de productions. (Parmi les œuvres contemporaines caractérisant ce genre de développement, on retrouve : Planet Galata; The Thousandth Tower; Gaza/Sderot; 7 Sons; St. Michael’s Hospital; The Whale Hunt; Folk Songs for the Five Points; Klatsassin; Soft Cinema; Life after Wartime; Danube Exodus; Tulse Luper Suitcases.)

Ce symposium interdisciplinaire inclura des présentations, tables rondes, projections, expositions ainsi qu’un atelier Korsakow visant à rassembler des théoriciens, spécialistes, artistes, curateurs et programmateurs se spécialisant dans ce champ de recherche. Nous visons également à promouvoir des discussions, des échanges créatifs ainsi que des débats tout en stimulant et provoquant un engagement créatif/productif envers la communauté avant, durant et après le symposium. Les organisations et individus participants seront ainsi impliqués dans différentes activités servant de points d’entrée et de sortie pour le symposium.

Nous recherchons principalement des propositions innovatrices et engageantes adressant les champs suivants, mais nous sommes aussi ouverts à d’autres propositions pertinentes :

- engagement critique envers des œuvres existantes et/ou artistes
- l’auditoire en tant que communauté et vice versa
- engagement théorique sur le concept de l’auteur, l’interactivité, les bases de données et les archives multimédia
- précurseurs historiques (cinéma utilisant de multiples écrans; livres dont vous êtes le héro)
- différents types de média utilisant la non-fiction : archivage, entrevue/histoire orale, témoignages, ethnographique.
- critiques de pratiques commerciales (par exemple : Second Story; Terra Incognita)
- le potentiel et les limites de certaines plateformes spécifiques (par exemple : Flash, Korsakow, HTML5)
- esthétisme visuel et littérature électronique
- la présentation, distribution et les formes de circulation alternative
- potentiel pour le futur (applications portables, écrans tactiles, interfaces activées par la voix et les mouvements, iPad, HTML5, typographie expressive)

Les propositions et lettres d’intérêt (courriel seulement avec pièces jointes de type Word, PDG ou plaintext) doivent être envoyées à Matt Soar et Monika Kin Gagnon au Veuillez nous indiquer en environ 500 mots l’idée, recherche et/ou œuvre créative vous désirez présenter au symposium, et gardez en tête que nous avons un intérêt marqué pour les présentations qui se démarquent du style traditionnel typique aux conférences. Votre proposition peut traiter d’un projet en cours, mais ce dernier doit être suffisamment avancé pour être présenté (du moins en partie) en Mai 2011. Ajoutez un petit paragraphe nous expliquant qui vous êtes, vos champs d’intérêt et comment vous contacter. La date limite révisée est le 15 décembre 2010.

D|N|A est organisé par CINER-G, le Concordia Interactive Narrative Experimentation & Research Group, qui est supporté financièrement par le FQRSC, l’Université Concordia (VP Recherche et Études Supérieures), et l’Institut Goethe. Pour plus d’information, mises à jour et modification à cet appel de propositions, veuillez visiter :

Interview: Florian Thalhofer on his creative approach

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?

florian-thalhoferFT: 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

Call for Participation: D|N|A (Concordia University, May 13-15, 2011)

An International Symposium on Nonlinear Digital Storytelling
Revised CFP

Concordia University, Montréal (13-15 May 2011)


Marsha Kinder (Professor of Critical Studies, School of Cinematic Arts, USC; Executive Director of The Labyrinth Project)
Katerina Cizek (Award-winning experimental documentarian; Filmmaker in Residence, National Film Board of Canada)

With a nonlinear, interactive lecture by Florian Thalhofer (Berlin; documentary filmmaker; inventor of the Korsakow System)

Confirmed participants: Hart Cohen (UWS), Adrian Miles (RMIT), Steve Anderson (USC), David Clark (NSCAD), Tim Schwab (CINER-G), Elena Razlogova (CINER-G), Jason Lewis (CINER-G, Obx Labs), Monika Kin Gagnon (CINER-G, co-organizer), Matt Soar (CINER-G, co-organizer).

Reflecting recent developments in the theories and practices of new media production, described variously as database documentary, interactive narrative, and experimental archiving, D|N|A seeks to highlight some of the most important issues and ideas currently characterizing this emerging discourse – and perhaps constitutive of a future, core set of properties or dynamics. (Contemporary works of note that characterize some of these developments include: Planet Galata; The Thousandth Tower; Gaza/Sderot; 7 Sons; St. Michael’s Hospital; The Whale Hunt; Folk Songs for the Five Points; Klatsassin; Soft Cinema; Life after Wartime; Danube Exodus; Tulse Luper Suitcases.)

This interdisciplinary symposium will bring together theorists, scholars, artists, curators and programmers, currently working in these and related areas for panel presentations, roundtables, screenings, a Korsakow workshop, and an exhibition, in a three-day event intended to foster discussions, creative exchange and debate. We also aim to stimulate and provoke creative/productive community engagements before, during, and after the symposium and will therefore be involving individuals and organizations in several activities that lead into the event and grow out of it.

As a guide, we welcome innovative and engaging proposals addressing the following areas, but also invite other proposals of potential relevance:

- critical engagements with existing works and/or artists
- audiences as communities and vice versa
- theoretical engagements with authorship, interactivity, databases and multimedia archives
- historical precursors (multi-screen cinema; choose your own adventure)
- genres of non-fiction media: archival, interview/oral history, witness/testimonial/first person, ethnographic.
- critiques of commercial practices (eg Second Story; Terra Incognita)
- the potentials and limitations of specific authoring and delivery platforms (eg Flash, Korsakow, HTML 5)
- visual aesthetics and electronic literature
- exhibition, distribution and alternative forms of circulation
- future potentials (mobile applications, haptic screens, voice- and movement-activated interfaces, iPad, HTML5, expressive type)

Proposals (email only, with plaintext, Word, or PDF attachments only) and expressions of interest should be sent to Matt Soar and Monika Kin Gagnon at Please tell us in about 500 words what ideas, research, and/or creative work you’d like to present at the symposium, and bear in mind that we are especially interested in finding ways to break out from traditional conference-style presentations. Your proposal can be work in progress, but should be sufficiently advanced by May 2011 to be presentable. Add a final paragraph explaining who you are, what you do, and where we can contact you. The revised deadline is December 15th, 2010.

D|N|A is being organized by CINER-G, the Concordia Interactive Narrative Experimentation & Research Group, with support from the FQRSC, Concordia University (VP Research & Graduate Studies), and the Goethe Institute. For more information, updates and amendments to this CFP, please visit:

Department of Communication Studies, Concordia University, Montréal