A film created on a smartphone could look so casual that it might have come from your Snapchat feed, or it could be indiscernible from one filmed on an eight figure budget. It could be a documentary. It could be a horror. It could be a highly experimental personal work or a delightfully tropey narrative — it could be a Vine.
If you aren’t familiar with smartphone filmmaking, it mightn’t jump out as the most obvious way to get into film. And yet, Vine twisted the landscape of short form filmmaking almost entirely from people’s smartphones, Sean Baker’s Tangerine (filmed entirely on iPhone 5s) marked the first Oscar Campaign for a transgender actress, and Academy Award nominated directors are embracing from the new wave.
There’s an emergent scene of talented creators working just with their phones, and it’s radically changing the landscape of modern filmmaking. On January 27th, the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival joined the conversation.
Now that filmmaking has become more accessible than ever, the DSFF has created a space in Dublin to celebrate these filmmakers and give this form the platform and recognition it deserves. Screening horror, comedy, documentary, drama, music videos and romances from all around the world shot exclusively on phones or tablets, the DSFF makes the possibilities of filmmaking seem endless.
And this is the message that festival director Robert Fitzhugh drives home in his appearances throughout the festival — this isn’t just a showcase of existing films, but an invitation for the viewer to realize the potential at their fingertips.
The festival itself, hosted at the Generator in Smithfield, is compact and well-paced: five hour-long programmes, punctuated by short breaks, puts the entire event at around six hours, and it never feels like it drags. A good mix of long and short films means each programme flies by, and as a credit to smart programming, Fitzhugh informs the audience that a particularly discomforting documentary on the Korean dog meat industry will be screened after the awards ceremony, so it’s entirely optional.
The awards ceremony is a nebulous thing — the judges are named on the DSFF website, but their criteria is never really elaborated on, which leads to a couple of ‘oh… that’s a choice!’ moments during the awards.
Which leads us to the film quality: it’s irregular. Spanish comedy Mi Baño gives some innocent laughs, French T’es un bonhomme! plays pretty magnificently with audience expectations in just a minute’s runtime, and most unexpectedly, I happily spent seven minutes staring at Canadian germs in The Big City. But this is a small selection of over thirty short films screened, which often ranged from boring to baffling.
But if you don’t like it, why don’t you try and make something better? That’s the heart of the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival, and why it’s peppered with so many extras to enable us: outside the screening room is a selection of mobile filmmaking gear from DSFF sponsors, and mid-festival it’s gleefully revealed that everyone in attendance will be receiving free gear retailing at over €40 from sponsor Manfrotto. Beyond that, the spirit of the festival doesn’t end here — on March 1st 2018, the organizers will be partnering up with Coollege to host a Smartphone Video Making Workshop where attendees can tap into the Sean Baker in us all and learn the basic techniques of smartphone filmmaking.
Mobile filmmaking is only in its infancy, but it’s growing and excelling at an exponential rate. In its first year the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival has made an astoundingly confident debut, and I’m very excited to see what the brand-new smartphone filmmakers of the world will be bringing to the table next year.
Photo: Asphyxia, directed by Raphael Keric