From brick-sized mobile phones that couldn’t even send text-messages and 35mm film cameras that could easily bruise your shoulder, to tech like the Nokia Lumia 920 with its on-board 1080p full-HD video camera, complete with a video light, zoom, optical image stabilization and five different white balance modes, mobile film-making has really evolved. But what mobile films have broken into the mainstream? And what’s next for the ambitious and tech-tastic young directors of the future?
Big success with small cameras
Notable big-screen successes for mobile phone film-makers have included Aryan Kaganof’s SMS Sugar Man (2005), shot on a Sony Ericsson W900i, and Cyrus Frisch’s Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me It Would Be This Bad In Afghanistan (2007), a silent movie shot on a 3.2 megapixel camera-phone and premièred at the International Film Festival, Rotterdam. Indie band The Presidents of the United States of America shot the entire video for their track Some Postman (2005) on smartphones—the first music video to jump on the mobile bandwagon.
The McHenry Brothers’ short film, The Commuter (2010), starring Dev Patel, Pamela Anderson and Charles Dance, was shot around London on a Nokia N8; and Park Chan-wook’s smartphone filmed feature Paranmanjan (2011) went on to win the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival.
Festivals getting in on the act
As Park’s success shows, not only have mainstream directors recognised the potential of mobile film-making (his previous credits include Old Boy (2003), and he’s won both the Jury Prize and the Grand Prix at Cannes) but film festivals have also really begun to embrace mobile shooting. New kid on the block, the Mobil Film Festival in San Diego, recognises the guerilla-style democracy of cell-phone film-making, and says it aims to ‘create interest and spark creativity in people of all ages with limited income or resources’.
Power in your pocket
This approach sets cell-phone filmmaking apart from its cinematic forefathers. Unlike Cannes or Berlin, cell-phone film festivals showcase films by award-winning directors alongside fresh and innovative films by young filmmakers, like those in World Film Collective, who are making films from the ghettos where they live. This film on the transport system in the townships of Cape Town was selected for screening at the Pocket Film Festival in Paris.
The world’s first mobile phone film festival, the Pocket Films Festival, has been running since 2005, and it inspired Japan’s Professor Masaki Fujihata, Professor at the School of Film and New Media at Tokyo University, to set up his own Pocket Film Festival. While the French event shows mobile films on big screens, Fujihata’s Yokohama festival is more interested in getting viewers to watch mobile films on mobile devices. In Japan, TV shows are being made specifically for smartphone consumption, and a couple of Fujihata’s protégés told Wired magazine back in 2010 that they believed the ultimate adapation of film for phones is to record and watch them all on the same device.
Inspired? Back in France, Pocket Film Festival founder Benoît Labourdette runs regular workshops in Paris to encourage wanna-be mobile auteurs. His advice? Use your phone’s natural advantage—its size and portability. What creative shots can you get with your phone that would be inaccessible to traditional video cameras? And, of course, before you start, choose a good phone! We’re partial to the Lumia 920 of course, but use your imagination—you’re behind the camera!
Short and sweet
Fired up with enthusiasm? Then why not unleash your creativity by entering the Nokia Music Short Film Competition, launched last week in association with Sundance London. If your idea for a short film, about the underground music scene, is chosen you’ll receive two Nokia Lumia 920s and a $5,000 budget to shoot your film. What’s more, both films are guaranteed a special showing at the Sundance London Film & Music Festival (2013) in April, and one lucky grand prize-winner will walk away with $5,000 and a Nokia Lumia 920.
Now that’s what we call mobile movie magic!