I was one of twelve documentary filmmakers from eight countries who were locked in a room at IDFA with fourteen I-Mac’s, two laptops and ten interactivity freaks. Our task: each of us had to create a non-linear interactive documentary in five days. Our tool: fresh from the University of Arts in Berlin, the experimental new «korsakow system» software. We were the lab rats with our paws on the keyboards. Our course coach Klaas Kuitenbrouwer from Mediamatic in Amsterdam called it “a mixture of a pressure-cooker and a kindergarten.” The idea was to discover to what extent the Korsakow experimental software answers the needs of non-linear narrative in documentary, to test the interactive interface with the viewer, to push the system’s boundaries and to play with its possibilities.

Florian Thalhofer,

This was virgin territory to me; I was attracted by the way interactivity seems to offer the exciting prospect of a new relationship between a documentary’s author and its audience. I was relieved to find that the software tool, invented by our tutor Florian Thalhofer, is easy-to-use and an elegant, flexible solution to the non-linear problem of grouping and labelling one’s shots and sequences. Essentially, it’s a database intelligently linked by keywords, allowing viewers to navigate their own customised path through the material. Building a project is quick, tinkering with it is fun, testing it on viewers (or ‘players’, we found ourselves adopting gaming terminology) is revealing.

A lot of the workshop’s hottest moments happened in the kitchen, debating and arguing about the philosophy of interactive documentary. The most experienced participants were Flemming Lyngse and Mia Fryland from Denmark, who are in the throes of making an original interactive documentary about a right-wing politician Danes love to hate, giving the audience choices about what they want to see of him. What struck me was Flemming and Mia’s confession that they get so many requests for interviews from academics and filmmakers wanting to find out what they’re doing, that if they answered every query they’d never have time to work on their project. It’s clear that interactive documentary is much more studied than practised, much more hyped than produced. There’s a hunger to see how documentaries can join the net age, but frankly there’s not a lot of product to fill the demand. As doc-makers we’ve been told for some time now that the interactive revolution is “just around the corner,” but it’s turning out to be a long, long corner.

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