Intimate and interactive  

By Anna Sarkissian

Intermedia student Pauline Béraud learned to make a non-linear database narrative in COMS 374. She showed her K-film at Arts and Science Undergraduate Research Day in early April.  Magnifying glass

Intermedia student Pauline Béraud learned to make a non-linear database narrative in COMS 374. She showed her K-film at Arts and Science Undergraduate Research Day in early April.

When associate professor Matt Soar came across Florian Thalhofer’s award-winning interactive/database narrative software, he told the Berlin-based media artist that Steve Jobs might come calling.

Steve Jobs didn’t call, Thalhofer reveals, but Concordia did.

Soon after, Soar and colleague Monika Kin Gagnon launched the Concordia Interactive Narrative Experimentation and Research Group with core researchers from design and computation arts, history and communication studies: Jason Lewis, Tim Schwab and Elena Razlogova.

Funded by FQRSC, CINER-G (pronounced synergy) and Thalhofer teamed up to redevelop the innovative software with programmers David Reisch and Stuart Thiel.

At the centre of it all is Korsakow (pronounced Kor-sa-kov), a free application for creating interactive, non-linear films using databases. Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure book in video format but without fixed paths: a cloud rather than series of branches. The director inputs clips, tags them with keywords and makes a rough skeleton. The viewer can chart out their own trajectory, following whichever meanings and associations interest them most.

Thalhofer started experimenting while studying at the Berlin University of the Arts.

“I didn’t know about filmmaking. I didn’t know how to properly build stories. I did everything wrong,” he says. “By doing everything wrong, I invented a new path.”

After a few years of creating K-films, as they’re called, Thalhofer found himself at a standstill; he had ideas about where to take Korsakow but didn’t have the programming expertise to see it through.

When Soar and CINER-G became involved, they provided the necessary framework to overhaul the system and launch a brand new open-source version, which was released in July 2009. (They joke that version 5.0 was such a marked improvement on version 3.0 that they skipped the fourth altogether.)

“I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and new platforms for creative expression,” says Soar, who is currently working on an experimental K-film while on sabbatical in France. “There’s nothing quite like Korsakow out there. With a weekend and a modicum of skill, anyone can make a K-film. It’s about accessibility.”

Gagnon from CINER-G agrees that user-friendliness is a key aspect. She is using Korsakow to create a multimedia archive of her late father Charles Gagnon’s experimental work.

Based on notes he’d left, she finished his own film, R69, which premiered recently at the Festival international du film sur l’art. In the process, she came across photos, paintings, and papers, plus a 47-minute broadcast that her father recorded by scanning up and down the radio dial when Pierre Laporte’s body was found in 1970.

“This amazing document might disappear into archives where only specialists might see it,” Gagnon says, noting that so much material is lost on the cutting room floor in conventional filmmaking. Her project, Archiving R69, will premiere online in the coming months.

Student Pauline Béraud learned how to make a K-film in an advanced intermedia class – one of four production streams in communication studies. Sur la Pointe des Pieds is made up of short clips featuring professional ballet dancer Klara Houdet.

“People click. If the scene is not interesting to them, they can keep clicking,” Béraud says, who presented her work at the Arts and Science Undergraduate Research Day on April 9 and even got some scientists interested, which she calls “a little victory for me.”

While conventional films can be effective means of driving home specific points, Thalhofer believes K-films lead to more questions, not answers.

“We live in a world with many complex problems. We need many solutions,” he says. “Korsakow is a thinking tool to create possibilities and thoughts.”

CINER-G is planning a major international symposium at Concordia May 13 to 15, 2011, with emphasis on research-creation for scholars, artists, programmers and more.


Concordia University