It seems like ages ago, that I left RMIT and Australia to return to Göttingen University. Before wrapping things up, though, I presented my fieldwork material in the context of a seminar in dialogue with PhD candidate Citt Williams (@cittw) hosted by Sarah Pink and the Digital Ethnography Research Centre on recent advances in “Digital Documentary, Interaction and Storytelling”. Drawing on two quite different approaches and findings, Citt and I critically discussed how the rapid advancements in the affordances of media technology are and could be utilized to engage with “the real”. As a professional, passionate and proactive filmmaker and environmental scientist, Citt explored how technology currently enables us to tell stories of environmental complexity, whilst through an ethnographic lense, I talked about my approach to develop meta-perspectives on documentary filmmakers using digital technology (i.e. Korsakow).
The seminar was really well attended and a lively discussion followed touching upon issues such as engagement – disengagement, multilinear aspects of knowing (affective, sensory etc.) and the discrepancy in social media discourse between doing/producing and viewing/responding. It was a great pleasure to also welcome Adrian Miles and Hannah Brasier amongst the audience. After the presentation Adrian came to congratulate me but when asked whether he felt that I had portrayed him and his process with Korsakow in a way that he could approve he just said that it would not matter. The only thing that mattered to him was that my research would lead to new insights about what his practice. Right. So I am going to tell him something he does not yet know about himself? Good luck, future-me. Anyway, I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I am very grateful to have received such broad support from all of my protagonists during my stay at RMIT and beyond (A big Thank You to all of you again).
Since April I’ve been circling back and forth between my desk, the editing room, the 13th Göttingen International Ethnographic Film Festival, a workshop with Australian Visual Anthropologist David MacDougall and frequent Skype meetings with the other Docuversers back in Melbourne. One of the most interesting but also challenging tasks at hand, however, is that of teaching Korsakow in the context of the local Master program in Cultural Anthropology with an emphasis on Visual Anthropology (CVA). In this project-based curriculum, the students are currently focusing on the overall topic of “images” (in a broader sense) and the specific practices behind the production of these images. Amongst the potential protagonists they chose for their camera-based fieldwork are artists, actors and urban planners but also dreams, opticians and surveillance technology. By applying notions from social practice theory (Reckwitz 2003), “skilled visions” (Grasseni 2007) as well as sensory and phenomenological approaches in visual anthropology, the students will carefully observe the specific visual practices in accordance with the particular subject-object constellations that inform the implicit and incorporated knowledge at work.
Although, the aim of the Master’s program is to engage with the theory and practice of ethnographic film, we will also attempt to choreograph the material they will gather during their fieldwork within a collective Korsakow project. In a first step, we will investigate to what extent Korsakow can be helpful within the research process itself. Through a circular process of observing and capturing material and importing this into the software, we hope to use Korsakow as a tool to notice unnoticed aspects in the footage which will then, again, inform how the students approach the field and camerawork. In a second step, the various clips will be combined in a joint project to trace connections across the different visual practices.
On Tuesday, the first session of introducing interactive documentary to the students kicked off with a practical exercise: Without providing them with a definite time frame, I asked the students to individually engage with Florian’s Planet Galata and to take notes on their experience. The task served as an exploratory reception study for my research as well as it offered the students a starting point for their work with Korsakow. By approaching the system from a viewer’s perspective, they were immediately confronted with their own expectations towards the format. During the following discussion, many students expressed frustration and stress, feeling overwhelmed by Korsakow’s small-size, multimodal arrangement, its lack of structure, tension and closure.
Among other things, their sense of disappointment was clearly stemming from their background in and knowledge of linear documentary and, thus, the criteria they utilized to view and evaluate the Korsakow film turned out to be misleading. The discussion then also revealed that it is not only a “lack” of the system but perhaps a lack in the literacy of the audience: How do we watch these films? How can we evaluate and talk about them? Isn’t the term “film” itself a misleading one?
However, after looking at the following quote by Judith Aston and Sandra Gaudenzi, their perspective started to change:
“Florian Thalhofer’s description of his difficult experience in editing his first linear film Planet Galata (2011) for Arte television, raised issues relating to the affordances of both the linear and non-linear form. As the inventor of Korsakow (an authoring tool for interactive video), he claimed that ‘the film’ (the linear Planet Galata) made him lie. He used humour and provocation to explain how the Aristotelian narrative form – with its need of a beginning, a complication, a middle and a resolution at the end – ‘forced’ him to construct a story that was not fitting with his real life experience. Contrary to the argument that most documentary makers have about the use of interactivity in documentaries – that the lack of authorial voice ultimately leads to a multitude of meaningless stories – Thalhofer argued that interactivity can set up scenarios whilst at the same time freeing the author from forcing a point of view onto his audience” (2012, 133).
With reference to debates in cultural and visual anthropologists around issues of representation, some of the students felt that such a multilinear arrangement of the material could get closer to the actual experience in the field by highlighting the different perspectives and processuality in our research. As a form of disseminating knowledge, however, Korsakow remains under close scrutiny. In the next session, the students will learn how to use Korsakow and it will be interesting to see how their experience as viewers will influence their role as makers.