Paris (AFP) June 22, 2010
Mobile phone clips of birthdays or nights out circulate like digital letters, but also provide material for a new cinema, say organisers of a groundbreaking Paris festival uniting Oscar-winners with amateurs.
At this year's three-day edition, even Italian acting legend Isabella Rossellini had her own pocket film showing on a loop, French arthouse filmmaker Benoit Jacquot led the jury; and Oscar-winning director Barbet Schroeder starred in one film in competition.
Scooping the top jury award at the closing ceremony Sunday however, was French student Sophie Sherman's just over two minutes "Fear Thy Not", about a girl entering a strange tunnel.
A 30-second clip about a traffic light by Japan's Tubomi Koukou also picked up an award.
"It was a gamble at first," Laurence Herszberg told AFP about the festival that was Europe's first for pocket films, "we wanted to see if cameras on mobile phones would give birth to a new visual language, like text messaging."
"Part of our life today happens within images," artistic director Benoit Labourdette said, "but it is not because we make the images that we are any freer or in control of them."
"A society where people can't read cannot be a democratic society ... we're all making images and we must learn the language of images, otherwise we'll be manipulated by them."
The first results of the venture were "catastrophic", Herszberg said, but after a run of workshops teaching basic techniques, and six festivals later, the "Pocket Film" wager has proved worthwhile.
The public has also shown sustained interest over the six years, with audience number reaching around 4,000 at the Paris Forum des Images, a state-funded film center, and some 5,000 when the event was held at the city's arts hub, the Pompidou Centre.
"Not a week goes by without a request to show a selection of the pocket films at an international institution," Labourdette told AFP, with Tokyo and Rio de Janiero having hosted satellite events.
Each year the thousand or so films submitted "tend to closely reflect social trends," Herszberg explained, who is the Forum des Images director.
In 2006 many of the entries concentrated on narrative, they were very "written and cinematic". A few years later abstraction was in, and filmmakers seemed more inspired by the plastic arts and video.
This year Herszberg and Labourdette noticed a spike in the "interactive" character of films, and also more political works, which is a shift from the earlier crop of entries that prioritised aesthetics.
-- New visual language --
Filmmakers are exploiting the intimacy and non-obtrusive nature of the mobile phone: banal, it passes just about anywhere, as in "Isratine Palestel", which won second prize this year.
In Naruna Kaplan de Macedo's seven minute film the young Frenchwoman records her car trip from home in Tel Aviv to see a friend in Ramallah.
She was able to record all her forced lies to soldiers at Israeli checkpoints and the dramatically changing landscapes between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories.
Pocket filmmakers are also exploiting the phone for its mobility.
"The Champion" by Portugal's Rui Avelans Coelho that won the top prize in 2008 showed a hammer thrower in action, but from the viewpoint of the equipment.
With the mobile phone tied to the hammer, viewers had a peek at what it might be like to fly as they were hurled across the sports field before crash landing on the grass.
The quality of the picture is poor compared to traditional film, "but this gives surprising, unexpected results... like very saturated colours," Labourdette explained, who recalls the similar charm of Polaroid photographs.
"It is extremely inventive," Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens told AFP, a leading French publisher who is on this year's jury, and a pocket filmmaker himself.
"The use of so-called faults in the device are very interesting aesthetically, the constraints of format, image definition, it is thrilling to see how we film a deficiency and make it into an aesthetic object."
If there is a new visual language emerging, are the films really worth a cinema projection and a three-day festival?
"Having a film festival for pocket films is certainly a paradox," admits Jean-Yves de Lepinay, head of film programming for Forum des Images.
"You have to see it to believe it," Labourdette said, adding that the mobile phone is being used increasingly by traditional cinema directors.
New Wave veteran Jean-Luc Godard for example, has just used it to record some scenes in his latest work, "Film Socialism."
"Who knows how people will use technology," Labourdette said. The Lumiere brothers built the first film camera, "they never dreamt people would use it to make cinema."
So far, the proliferation of image-making "has led to some regrettable consequences," Herszberg said, "no events escape what the mobile phone records, whether the scene is unusual, disturbing, sinister, funny."
But the pocket film festival is a prod in the direction of creativity, and by taking movies from mobile phones seriously it has injected self-reflection about image-making, and also provided new invention for the old silver screen.
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