At the beginning of this semester I was invited by Prof. Sandeep Marwah, the Director of the Asian Academy of Film and Television in Film City, Noida, India, to conduct workshops for their Graduate and Undergraduate students in screenwriting, digital narrative shorts and documentaries.
Located in the suburbs of New Delhi, AAFT has about 400 students in 5 different basic programs: short courses that run for 3 months, year-long vocational courses, a 3-year BA
course, a 2-year Masters course and Post-Graduate specialization courses.
The TV facilities are exceptional, with 4 huge soundstages where professional news and soap operas are shot regularly. My host, Prof. Marwah, has started a Film City there 2 decades ago, that by now has been built up by large TV Networks surrounding the school.
My workshops were received with great enthusiasm as I found the students quite serious and eager to learn, and I have come across quite a few ambitious projects. Almost all student projects focused on important social issues and had a progressive agenda.
In addition to my lectures and workshops I had a second goal: I wanted to shoot a couple of shorts on my Nokia 90 cell phone in co-production with Marwah Studios for a book that I am writing on this subject.
Little did I know that by announcing this at a news conference we would be flooded by media attention as \ the ‘Pioneers’ of Cell Phone Cinema in India.
The first of three narrative cell phone shorts was presented at the Tisch Undergraduate Film & TV faculty meeting on March 6th, 2007.
The following is an excerpt from my lectures and press conference announcements launching Cell Phone Cinema in India.
“Sundance recently turned 25, and “to me [cell phones] were the new venue of where
we were going to next,” said Robert Redford on November 8, 2006, upon launching his
Global Short Film Project with 5 filmmakers in February of 2007.
Redford has negotiated an arrangement with the Global System Mobile Association to
disseminate Sundance’s cell phone cinema to GSMA’s more than 2.6 billion cell phone
One month earlier, between October 6-8, 2006, the world largest Pocket Cinema Festival
opened in Paris at the Pompidou Center, showing 80 films including features entirely shot
on cell phones. Some 8,500 people attended the event.
One of the sensations of the Pocket Film Festival was a 90 minute long documentary
(shot on a Nokia-90 cell phone) by the Italian team of Marcello Mencarini and Barbara
Seghezzi. Entitled “New Love Meetings,” it is a loose remake of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1963
documentary Love Meetings, interviewing a large sampling of Italians on their views of
love and sex. The new version is the world’s first feature length cell phone documentary
and it also made waves at the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival a month
later. I was lucky enough there to shoot an interview with these pioneering cell phone
filmmakers - of course, with my own cell phone.
Released in February 2006, the world’s first narrative cell phone feature film credit
goes to a South African filmmaker, Aryan Kaganof. Revolving around the adventures of
a pimp and two high-class female escorts on Christmas Eve in Johannesburg, his film
was released in 3-minute segments on cell phones but it was also blown up to 35mm for
projection in theaters as well.
In American film education Boston University jumped on the bandwagon first. In 2006,
a class of eleven students started to learn how to make cell phone movies under the
direction of a professional filmmaker/educator, Jan Egleson.
In terms of cell phone film competitions, as early as March 2003, a Los Angeles company
called Big-Digit had organized the first one in the US. Called the World’s Smallest Film
Festival, it debuted at a trade fair in New Orleans.
Asia and especially India’s Bollywood have been among the first areas to take advantage
of Cell Phone Cinema.
Arindham Chaudhary’s feature film “Rok Sako To Rok Lo” was premiered on cell-phones a
day ahead of its theatrical release on December 10, 2004; a first of this kind of distribution
in the world.
China now has the largest population of mobile-phone users in the world (437.5 million),
of which more than 20 million right now are high quality video cell phones. Chinese
companies are predicting that cell-phone movies will become the next television.
And this is only a partial list of the highlights in the rapid growth of Cell Phone Cinema.
What is all of this excitement deriving from?
FLASH BACK/FLASH FORWARD
Obviously, there’s been an explosion in the world of communication. A Big Bang has
been spreading millions and millions of mobile phones around the globe to ease and
speed up our interactions.
This expansion has grown exponentially ever since digital technology has permeated and
started to change our lives.
It took less then 50 years from the invention and practical application of the first mobile
phones to the sophisticated Video-Camera-PDA cell phones of today.
Due to the blessings of digital technology we can expect and demand instant gratification
from our cell phones: connect us to the Internet, play music, take photos, keep our lives
and contacts organized. We can now add to that list: play and record video.
No wonder that the giant film studios of Hollywood and the television networks as well
are jumping on this bandwagon. Mobile communication is the new frontier, a brand
new domain for making enormous profits by downloading and streaming entertainment
on mobile devices on demand. The large wireless phone companies Cingular, Sprint
and T-Mobile have entered into partnerships with the television networks and with
the Hollywood studios and started to provide news, sports and entertainment videos
for their cell phone subscribers. On the other hand, the customers themselves are not
merely receivers of this programming. Unlike in traditional cinema, where the members
of the audience are passive spectators, videophone owners have the option to make and
distribute their own mini-movies, often on these same conglomerate channels and make
some money for themselves. For example, news networks are open to and occasionally
are forced to purchase footage of events that are available only from video cell phone
owners who happened to be recording images at critical moments. For example: cell
phone images of the London Subway bombings helped the rescue efforts and were
broadcast on television as – understandably - no other recordings were made right at the
time of the terror attacks.
In addition to newsworthy recordings, Cell Phone Short Films can be entered into
competitions at specific Cell Phone Cinema festivals for winning money,
Do not dismiss the quality of recording by the new Cell Phone Cameras either - for
example, the new Nokia 95’s camera has a 5 Mega-pixel resolution that equals DVD
This is not to say that mobile videophones can or should replace video cameras in either
amateur or in even in semi-professional productions. However, for our purpose, there is
nothing easier and simpler to use for an overview of digital film and video production.
Therefore, the main purpose of video cell phones is not to replace regular digital cameras
- that’s not likely even in the future. These phones are additional accessories that we can
always carry around like ballpoint pens in our pockets, for taking notes on the go.
The basis for this analogy between videophones and pens takes us back a long way into
the past of World Cinema.
It was back in 1948 when Alexander Astruc, the famous French film theorist and director,
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formulated the theory of “Camera Stylo” - that is, “Camera Pen” - meaning that the holder
of the “pen” is the real author of the film, and that is – he said - the director. Astruc used
the analogy of the pen to establish the authorship of the director at the beginning of the
French New Wave Cinema of the late Fifties and Sixties,
In my theory, Cell Phone Cinema means that by carrying around these tiny videophones
like “Camera Stylos” in our pockets everyone may become a filmmaker. The difference
between carrying around a pen or a “camera pen” is being diminished by modern digital
Most importantly, for the purposes of this Pocket Book, PDA Video Cell Phones can
function as full service Production Centers, able to assist anyone in becoming a filmmaker.
Pretty complex film productions can be run entirely on these Cell Phones. They can put
the whole world Hollywood production into our palms. Indeed, this Pocket Book can
show you not only how to receive but also how to produce films and videos on these Cell
Phones from the formulating and developing of ideas all the way to the presentation and
distribution of the final cinema products.
Welcome to Cell Phone Cinema.