Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California

A collection of works from students in the Interactive Cinema class during the Fall of 2016.

Database Narratives, Software Cinema & Albert Einstein



If you think about Albert Einstein what kind of person do you imagine? The first things that come to ones mind are probably his achievements as a theoretical physicists, his legendary formula E = mcand his final emigration 1933 to the U.S. during the Nazi Era in Germany.

But did you know that Einstein was also a social activist and that the FBI generated a 1,500 page file of his activities?

“Einstein is the hardest person to say anything about. His own friend found him inscrutable, and not even their love of him offered a firm bridge of understanding.”

– Fritz Stern

If you want to get the chance to get gain a whole new picture of Albert Einstein I recommend you to see the interactive portrait & art installation Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California by The Labyrinth Project.  It focuses on the winters of the years 1931, 1932 and 1933 during his visit as a research associate at the California Institute of Technology  in Pasadena.

Three Winters in the Sun is part of The Labyrinth Project – an art collective and research initiative that was originally initiated by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication in 1997.They experiment with interactive cinema and database narratives.

“[We are] committed to creating a productive dialogue between the immersive language of cinema and the interactive potential and database structures of digital media.”

– The Labyrinth Project

In 2004 the film scholar Marsha Kinder created  Three Winters in the Sun in cooperation with the digital artist Kristy H.A. Kang, the German interface designer Andreas Kratky and the Korean sound designer Juri Hwang. It was build to fill the time gap in the storyline of the traveling Einstein exhibition to run in Los Angeles. The curators were lacking content for the years of 1931-1933.

Rather than telling a classical story with one beginning and one end, the artists decided to puzzle a non-linear multi perspective portrait. You can listen, watch and read fragments of his relations to the different communities being retold by his descendants, confederates, colleagues and records. Sooner or later you will realize that the different stories even contradict.

“How could an ardent pacifist come to be called “the grandfather” of the atomic bomb? How could this secular scientist be offered the Presidency of Israel? And how could this great humanitarian treat members of his own family so coldly?”

– Marsha Kinder


The interactive memoir clearly leaves you with more questions than answers. Depending on your choices of fragments in the navigation of the installation you get to remix your very own vision of Albert Einstein.

I truly enjoyed this kaleidoscopic experience, as Einstein is such an important figure that not only strongly impacted natural sciences but also fields that appear to be unrelated like social sciences, philosophy and art. And I liked how the essence of the memoir was about proofing us that there is nothing such as a single story. There are always multiple perspectives. That reminded me of one of my favorite TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that I believe is well worth seeing.


You can purchase Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California as an interactive DVD-ROM online or you can get access to it at selected Archives as the Geroge Amberg Memorial Film Study Center. To learn more about The Labyrinth Project visit their website.


USC-Annenberg Center for Communication.Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California. 2005.


“Three Winters in the Sun: Einstein in California”. Marsha Kinder Legacies. <;

“The Labyrinth Project on Interactive Narrative”.<;


“Three Winters in the Sun – Eintesin in California” September 2016. Vimeo. <;

“The danger of a single story” July 2009. TED. <;


“#albert einstein; #time is an illusion” May 2011. Tumblr.<;

“#al” March 2011. <;

WORDS:  590

Group Project: “Three Winters In the Sun: Einstein in California”

Shirley, Emir, Anila and I began to interact with Marsha Kinder’s “Three Winters In the Sun: Einstein in California” after barely skimming the booklet. The booklet that accompanies the interactive film is text heavy. The user directions can be found at the end of the booklet, so, a user must thoroughly review the booklet if they are struggling to interact with the film. This is a strange choice, and I am not sure if this was purposeful, or if the booklet was an afterthought. The installation was completed in 2004, and was displayed in an art gallery. It is possible that the booklet was a compilation of the text that was displayed at the installation, and that it was formatted differently to help users engage in an informal setting (at leisure or at home). As a group we spoke little about the structure of the companion booklet, but in retrospect, I feel that our lack of engagement with it is revealing of the project as an interactive piece.einstein-gif-animated-imgur

We engaged with the content regardless, and we did not need any assistance. Humans’ interaction with technology is constantly changing. Our interaction with the film differs from how a user would have interacted with the installation in 2004, or how a user would have interacted with the film at home in 2010. The rapid progress of technology influences how humans interact with it, and helps us to reflect on our own adaptability.


I consider the fact that I was in a group of three other people, who were also interacting with the film. I wonder if I would have looked for the directions in the booklet if I weren’t sitting at a table with three other students. We helped each other interact with the film by contributing our own knowledge, and offering ideas if there were moments of confusion. Interacting with the film offered both a communal and individual experience.


As an individual I feel it important to reflect on overstimulation as a necessary tool, and impenetrable barrier. This project aims to “fill in the gaps” regarding Einstein’s last three years in California (1931-1933). The multimedia platform is utilized as a paradoxical representation of Einstein’s conflicting “beliefs”. I use the word “beliefs” cautiously, because his own beliefs are still shrouded in mystery due to the heavy influence of his family, colleagues and the U.S. government. I initially viewed the project’s use of multiple stimuli as a flawed system that failed to engage the user.


After considerable thought I have come to a very different conclusion. This project serves as a vehicle for the viewer to empathize with Einstein’s personal struggles as a public figure. He became a caricature of progress and scientific development, yet his own opinions and passions were often overlooked. The 1,400 pages of FBI intel on Einstein were more revealing than many of the more public files on the famous scientist.


“Three Winters In the Sun: Einstein in California” encourages the user to lose track of the content and feel lost in an ever-changing influx of information. These three years will never be “recovered”, but as we continue to interact with the project we too realize that we cannot recover our own experience within the labyrinth. Words fail to summarize Einstein’s profoundly complex and unidentifiable anguish. Users’ multimedia journey through these years does not fully grasp this time in Einstein’s life, but it provides a brief window into the turbulent relationship with his influencers.