The Man Who Wanted to Classify the World

60 ‘ – Version française, English Version, Nederlandse Versie.Paul Otlet - L'homme

From the index card to the Internet…

The film relates the life of Belgian utopian Paul Otlet (1868-1940) who developed the strangest of obsessions: classify and catalogue all the books which ever appeared in the world according to a system of “universal decimal classification system”, enabling him to codify both ideas and facts. Over the course of time, he and his collaborators filled out some twelve million index cards… This classification system is considered similar to today’s “hypertext” which enables us to navigate the Web.

He next wanted to build a world city, the plans of which were entrusted to architect Le Corbusier, that would reunite all the knowledge in the world, in order to attain peace thanks to better knowledge and thus understanding between peoples. He imagined in 1934 an “irradiated library”, the books of which could be consulted at a distance by means of a television screen and telephone. Such are the broad lines of Paul Otlet, that visionary, who is considered by communication historians as one of the precursors of today’s Web and Internet.

The story of a utopia which might have succeeded, the story of an intuition which ended up as an obsession, the story of a dream of world peace which toppled over into madness. The story of an apparent failure, and an unexpected, at the very least, posthumous victory…

Order the DVD

Directed by: Françoise Levie
Original script: Benoît Peeters and Françoise Levie.
With the cooperation of the Mundaneum (Mons), Corbusier Foundation (Paris) and Hendrik Andersen Museum (Rome).
© 2002 – A Sofidoc – Wild Heart Production – RTBF Charleroi Coproduction.
With the support of the French Community of Belgium and Vlaanderen Film Fonds.
Distribution: Memento Production.

Prizes and awards

  • Prize for Best Scientific Film (Villa Real Festival – Portugal)
  • Special Prize at the 1st International Science Film Festival – Athens 2006
  • Selection in the 3rd Science Film Festival – Bangkok – Thailand.

Exhibits and colloquiums in which the film took part:

The History and Heritage of Scientific ; Technological Information Systems
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) – November 2002
- Visionary Belgium
Curator of the exhibition: Harald Szeemann
Bozar – Brussels 2005
- VIII Enancib Encontro Nacional de Pesquisa em Ciência da Informação
Universidade Federal da Bahia. (Brésil)
October 2007.
- Convegno nazionale dell’Associazione Italiana per la Terminologia
Universita della Calabria Aula Magna
June 2008
- Documentazione, terminologia e scienze dell’informazione
Rome. June 2009.