OnScreen Editorial: phone futures

Dan Edwards

Attending the Mobile Journeys forum at Sydney’s Chauvel Cinema in February, it was fascinating to watch the tensions playing out between new media practitioners excited by the aesthetic and financial possibilities of mobile phone art and telco representatives apparently interested solely in company profits. The presentations ran the gamut from market surveys featuring endless figures and pie-charts, to a hyperactive address from Fee Plumley and Ben Jones of the-phone-book Limited (UK) urging us to seize the medium and push aesthetic boundaries: “It’s like the early days of cinema–we’ve got to cross the line to find out when crossing the line isn’t good.”

The forum was part of the FutureScreen Mobile program of masterclasses and forums run by dLux Media Arts between September 2004 and February this year. It’s too early to say what will eventuate in the ground between the commercial and artistic poles represented at Mobile Journeys, but if the ‘MicroMovies’ commissioned for Hutchison’s ‘3’ network shown at the forum are any indication, don’t expect innovative content from our telcos. Short animations like Tightarse Tighthead aren’t exactly exploring a brave new audio-visual frontier.

Mark Pesce of AFTRS’ Digital Media Department argued that telcos will never understand the aesthetic or commercial potential of mobile phones until they start providing content that treats users as social beings first, and consumers second. Pesce’s claim is supported by Anna Davis’ feature report examining global developments in phone art. Installations such as Blinkenlights (Chaos Computer Club, Germany) employ phones as points of interaction in works that directly address a wider community. In other words, they treat phones as network devices rather than delivery points for pre-made content.

Having said that, at least some of the local interest in mobile phones has come from filmmakers desperate for any outlet in a media landscape increasingly bereft of Australian content. My AIDC report details some of the alternative funding models presently being discussed to address the general downward slide in Australian documentary and drama production. But even the mixed public-private structures outlined by the Canadian delegation at AIDC require a governmental commitment to the industry. An essential part of this is content regulation: in another short-sighted move at the end of March the federal government rejected the Australian Broadcasting Authority’s recommendation to introduce local content rules for the 10 documentary channels on Australian pay TV. Locally made documentaries comprise just 4.9% of the content on these channels, with the vast majority of programs repeated from free-to-air. Without regulation, this figure is expected to decline; a familiar story of Australian talent being stymied by the limited vision of our political and corporate leaders.DE

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 20

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2005