Database-Driven Narratives

Session Type:

Working group, tutorial

Session Category:

Technology, Creative

Session Leader:

Florian Thalhofer, Matt Soar,
Dave Reisch (Korsakow)

Day: Sunday
Time: 2:00—3:30
Room: W302

Session notes


Linear film has a 150-year-long history. Every story that can be told this way has been told, and new stories are constrained by linearity. For this reason, filmmakers are turning to the web as a new creative medium. Trained in an old medium (and filled with all the recipes of 150 years of linear film-making), however, they tend to use the same old approach: the author acts as the master of the story. Can there be a different approach? Loosening the ties without losing the author?

Interactive, web-based documentaries are a rapidly emerging medium. Outstanding recent examples include the National Film Board of Canada’s Out My Window and Welcome to Pine Point; the ARTE-produced films Gaza/Sderot and Prison Valley; and The Whale Hunt.

In this session we will explore the possibilities of “database-driven cinema,” and brainstorm new narrative possibilities. We’ll do this in part through the lens of The Korsakow System, created in 2000, which offers documentary storytellers a new set of tools (as demonstrated by award-winning Korsakow-films Planet Galata (for ARTE); 7 Sons; 13th Floor; and Forgotten Flags). Other examples are accessible via and at the Korsakow website).

Korsakow films are dynamic. In other words, their structure is not mapped out in advance as a set of fixed paths; rather, the author of a Korsakow-film creates the environment for a self-organizing story-space, through which each viewer can walk on his or her individual path. What can we learn from the Korsakow system? What are the untapped possibilities of the web for new forms of storytelling?

  • 2.00 – 2.10 Overview of the Korsakow System: intro, overview, history, open source (Matt)
  • 2.10 – 2.20 Philosophy behind Korsakow: Why nonlinear? (Florian)
  • 2.20 – 2.30 Overview of the codebase (Dave)
  • 2.30 – 3.30 Imagine the possibilities of database driven storytelling / open discussion, with optional demonstration of the software (Florian)


The group will learn from the 3-person Korsakow development team about goals and new features (eg exporting to HTML5.) A discussion between filmmakers and technologists will follow.

This session will offer a conceptual and practical overview of Korsakow and the possibilities of database-driven cinema, and and opportunity to contribute to its development through a software development/roadmapping exercise.

Participants will capture session notes and recommend next steps to enable filmmakers to experiment with database-driven cinema—either through subsequent meetings or a new software project.

For participants:

  • a better understanding of the history, purpose, and goals of the Korsakow System;
  • an opportunity to meet with the entire production team;
  • an appreciation of the dynamics of database-led storytelling,including what we see as the inherent limitations of linear (‘traditional’) storytelling;

For the team:

  • a fresh sense of unseen possibilities and problems;
  • ideas for new features/functionality and improved code;
  • access to a new community of ‘fellow travelers’: creative coders and coding creatives who understand the project and might wish to contribute to it.