tiny movies, big moves

sasha grbich in paris at the pocket film festival

Pocket Film Festival

Pocket Film Festival


Now in its third year, the International Pocket Film Festival 07, hosted by the Pompidou Centre, presented a plethora of forums and creative projects that were made with, shown on, or developed thanks to the mobile phone.

France seems an appropriate home for this grainy new bloom of filmmaking. The streets of Paris are the subject for a new generation of filmmakers, but now pixilated to the point of abstraction with truth shakier than ever at 15 frames per second. Yves Gallard, coordinator of the festival’s international program, likens the potential of mobile films to the freedoms experienced by early Super 8 filmmakers, thus squarely and safely placing the festival within a canon of French national cinema. It is not surprising then that film director Claude Miller, who started out assisting Bresson, Godard and Truffaut, headed up the jury for best big screen film shot on mobile phone.
Heidi Tikka's Births, Pocket Film Festival

Heidi Tikka's Births, Pocket Film Festival

broadcasting intimacy

In one of the many forums, Heidi Tikka of Mcult, Finland, presented Births, a mobile service experiment that placed camera phones in the hands of new mothers in Helsinki maternity hospitals. Tikka frames her work as artistic social research into mobile applications.The stills taken on these phone cameras were projected in prominent public spaces: babies catapulted from recent constriction in the womb to 20x magnification on a city wall. Tikka explains that we previously announced births in the local newspaper: a few words released into the public sphere for those who know the family. Her project makes the celebration of birth a broader community experience. As viewer I have no idea who these slimy little people are but their struggling first breaths and closed eyes are overwhelmingly powerful and slightly troubling—my voyeurism highlighted by the absence of any returning gaze.

I wonder how people felt watching the mobile phone video of Saddam Hussein’s death. Tikka’s work highlights the ways that mobile media might influence social etiquette and norms, raising questions about how to navigate when mobile technology disturbs the boundary between public and private, and embodied experience becomes disrupted by telepresence. Should we be able to peer this closely at others’ deaths and births? Tikka reported that despite the images being freely given by the mothers, she still felt the need to moderate them for public display.

personal screenings

Most of the films shown came from the likes of the UK’s Pocket Shorts (UK), the Toronto International Film Festival and Amsterdam’s Playmobiel. Australia had a major presence in this program with exhibitions from Australian Network for Art and Technology, dLux Media Arts and Metro Screen. Australia was also represented in the big screen competition with works by Melinda Rackham, Damon Herriman, Michael Lohmaller and Hermione Merry. Merry won third prize for her Sunday or the Circus.

There was an enormous body of tiny works to view—the experience one of constant flipping between poetry and eye candy. Works were less than one minute and situated somewhere between ultra cute screen-saver type animations and the video equivalent of haiku.

Each exhibition phone held a lengthy sequence of works edited as a single loop with keypads completely locked preventing the skim reading and flicking that handsets make possible. It was also disappointing that none of the mobile works were available for download, thus keeping the art securely framed by its gallery locale. Gallard explained the decision: “the French do not use Bluetooth. This aspect failed at last year’s festival and will not be tried again.”

At its best, the mobile platform is wonderfully uncontrollable; artists and filmmakers have the opportunity to leave their work literally in the hands of the viewer, from where it can be shared rhizomatically. It’s a pity that in comparison with the playful, disruptive attitude of the big screen program, the mobile exhibition did not undermine the expectation that viewers should only ‘look but don’t touch.’ Mobile films can be tactile and personal, but in this case, none of the works got anywhere near audience pockets.

public screenings

UK artist Henry Reichold stages a small, hand-sized takeover of public space with his work Free Run. Black and white phone video taken on the streets of London is overlaid by the artist’s own movement through them. In a flight of editing fancy Reichold jumps buildings and scales walls like a surfer of public monuments. Free Run suggests the potential of mobile phones in the creation of public digital art with a new digital public in networked communities.

Taken in one shot, unedited and unscripted, Porte de Choisy by Antonin Verrier won the judges’ prize. The film centered on a highly intimate but also totally banal conversation between lovers, one of whom held the mobile phone camera most of the time (when it wasn’t simply discarded on the bed). Made like a home movie, but for collective viewing by strangers, the work’s similarity to YouTube content playfully tempts the audience to disregard it as amateurish. Despite the film’s veneer of carelessness, Verrier makes some interesting choices including his characters’ use of apartment windows and phone and internet screens to create an expanded narrative outside the frame.

It seems that the mobile has unleashed some refreshingly impetuous filming. In Reverse Love, a non-professional actor walks perpetually towards us in uncomfortably long shots, gradually forgets to act cool and acknowledges the person behind the mobile camera with flirtatious smiles. Finally she grabs the phone and turns it on her partner. Now the action continues much as before, although with the dynamic between director and actor disrupted. Reverse Love won the audience prize for maker Morgan Foldi-Mohand and, like Porte de Choisy, enjoys great fluidity between the roles of subject and maker.

Mobile technology seems to be mapping out a little elbow room for media art, with phone films bringing fresh fumbling intimacy and impetuousness to creative practices. For such a tiny festival (three days long), Pocket Film covered enormous ground, the expansive approach testament to the far-reaching tremors this tiny cultural disruptor is causing.

Sasha Grbich presented pixel.play and Portable Worlds, programs developed for ANAT. For works from the big screen program go to www.festivalpocketfilms.fr

International Pocket Film Festival, Pompidou Centre, Paris, June 8 -10

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 5

© Sasha Grbich; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007