Gone are the days when mobile phones served just one piffling function: that of a telephone. They've long proved to be versatile multimedia gadgets and are now even starring in a short film festival in Berlin.
Film art in pocket-sized format
A ramshackle Volkswagen bus flattens a mobile phone with a sickeningly crunching sound under its tires. In another variation, a mobile phone is pounded to bits with a golf club or a baseball bat. That's how a Berlin artist duo demonstrates various death scenarios of mobile phones in a 90-second long sequence -- shot with a mobile phone outfitted with video technology.
The clip is one of around 150 wildly experimental short films competing for the "MicroMovie Award," the crowning glory of an international film festival focusing exclusively on films shot with mobile phones. Called "interfilm," the festival will be debuting in Berlin from Nov. 2 to Nov. 7.
In cooperation with its main sponsor, "interfilm" has provided film schools and producers worldwide with the latest mobile phone generation and is now waiting for applications that have to be sent in to Berlin by the end of August.
Short films from around the world
"Solarium", a short film by Konrad Sattler
There's little doubt of the popularity of the project. Packets from around 22 countries have already piled up on Heide Schürmeier's desk at the "interfilm" office in Berlin. Some bear names such as "Vancouver Film School," the "Univerdsidad del Cine" in Buenos Aires or the "National Institute of Design" in India.
The latter, in particular, has already sent in nine MicroMovies despite the fact that the Indians were equipped with just two mobile phones. Young Indian filmmakers have already cemented the Bollywood country's reputation as a quick-film Mecca.
Working with technical limitations
But, though shooting with a mobile phone might sound fun, it isn't exactly easy.
"There's no zoom, the light conditions are different, low storage capacity and just when things begin to get exciting the battery's empty," Schürmeier said. "But that's exactly why it's so thrilling to see how professionals manage with such limitations."
Professor Tjark Ihmels from the Institute for Media Design at the Mainz technical college, whose students have also sent in applications to the "interfilm" festival, remembers how challenging the work was.
"They (the students) were incredulous at how tiny a camera can be," Ihmels said. He added that most of his students were unused to working without bulky film equipment.
"And as far as the quality loss of the handy cameras go, the word 'handicap' takes on a whole new meaning," he added.
Technologically, filming with a video-capable mobile phone is a nightmare. Quick movements are totally unacceptable to the phones, turning picture sequences into choppy, coarse pixels and playing havoc with the colors.
"One has to work with distortion, rework it on the computer and incorporate photo elements," Ihmels said . This kind of technical mop-up before the 90-second end product is allowed by "interfilm."
Ihmels is convinced of the benefits of video-capable mobile phones. He said the greatest art in the making of the mobile phone films was to exploit the technical weaknesses.
"Then one can aesthetically produce serious beauties," he said. "One can be more spontaneous and people also move more freely, more authentically."
On the data protection radar
But this freedom of shooting people and things so freely -- with the pocket-sized camera allowed almost everywhere and the subtle click on the release button going mostly unobserved -- has already attracted the attention of data protection authorities. "A pirated copy of the facts" is what the "interfilm" crew calls it.
But so far voyeuristic short films still haven't reached Heide Schürmeier.
"Maybe it contradicts the professional ethos of the filmmakers," is how she explains it.
But Ihmels believes there's another reason behind it.
"They're aware of the legal consequences of secret filming," he said.
Currently the "interfilm" team are selecting the 20 best applications, which can be viewed on the Internet at the beginning of October. In November, spectators can then vote which mobile phone film wins the €3,000 endowed "MicroMovie Award." However, they'll have to crowd around a small computer monitor to do that because despite all the technological sophistication, the graphic resolution of the "MicroMovies" doesn't suffice for a large silver screen.