Established in 2015 by co-founders Ali Crew and Angela Blake, SmartFone FlickFest is open to international filmmakers with five principal prize categories: feature films for projects running over forty minutes; a 20-minute category for short films; SF360, an exciting showcase of narrative storytelling screened in a virtual reality environment via VR headsets; and SF3 Kids, a competition open to filmmakers under the age of 16; and SF3 Mini, for ultra-short films running under the three-minute mark. It’s the perfect project for those filmmakers looking for a creative distraction during the current lockdown restrictions faced by 60% of the country.
While smart device film festivals have been a novelty in many countries, the advancements in camera technology, combined with accessibility to decent online editing software and a new wave of innovative filmmakers spawned by the pandemic and social inequality have really begun to legitimise the medium. On top of that, established filmmakers such as Zack Snyder (Snow Steam Iron shot on an iPhone 7 Plus), Steven Soderbergh (Unsane and High Flying Bird shot on iPhone 7 & 8 respectively), and Chan-Wook Park & Chan-Kyong Park (Night Fishing shot on iPhone 4) are getting on board too. The content emerging from phones and tablets is finally seeing a well-deserved renaissance.
One Australian filmmaker taking advantage of new media filmmaking, James Demitri is currently running post production on an ambitious feature length film, MisPlaced, a project which he describes as visual poetry. We spoke with the Sydney based filmmaker on the challenges and benefits of directing from a mobile device as he finalises his film for its debut at the 2021 SF3.
“What’s happening with phones is something of a rebellion,” explains Demitri from his home in Sydney’s Inner West. “It’s similar to when DSLRs first came out during the ’80s, and when the ’60s saw the little 8mms came out. It’s one of those moments that have given a lot of creative people freedom to try to make something where they wouldn’t have normally tried. It’s inspiring people to pick up the phone, or a tablet, or any mobile device. It is creating an underground vibe, and I personally find that really exciting.”
You’ve shot a film before using more traditional equipment. Comparing these two experiences, do you think mobile devices will continue to be embraced as a relevant and practical device by filmmakers?
“Most people would say the same thing: a phone is a camera that you’ve got with you all the time. I love the films of Bergman and Tarkovsky. Their work is beautiful; they can hold their shot for five minutes and it still looks magical. I really enjoy that stuff. They were made a long time ago. If you look at the technology that is on a phone now, it’s so much more advanced than what these people had to work with then. Sure, you don’t get the depth of field, but as far as what you can capture on an iPhone for example, or any mobile phone, it’s insane how far the technology has come. The only letdown is with low light and the depth of field. But you can trick that to compensate. You can add a bit of this, a bit of that, and do a bit of stuff in post to make it feel cinematic. There’s enough really high quality grain that you can use to make it filmic. That works really well. The other advantage is that you can actually sneak into places that you never could using large equipment. People don’t even know that you’re making a film.”
MisPlaced is being shot on an iPhone11. We’ve seen some well-established filmmakers direct and shoot on mobile devices dating back to the iPhone 5 and 6. Do you think the hardware you’re shooting on equates to quality, or dictates limitations?
“I’m not a tech chaser. Some people chase tech instead of actually just making something. You can really get caught up in the whole ‘I need to have this gear or that gear to make something.’ You don’t! Just make something! The technology will always be there and it’s always going to advance. By the time you’ve finished something, there will be another thing that’s come out, and something that’s better than what you’ve got now. Take Sean Baker’s Tangerine, which was shot on a 5s. That film did really well at Sundance. That was shot on a much crappier iPhone than an 11 and it’s great. If the story’s there, if it’s got heart and it’s saying something, or if it creates a reaction in somebody… then you’ve done something.”
Can you offer a little insight into the software and any additional equipment that you’ve utilised in shooting MisPlaced?
“I’ve shot the entire thing myself. I’m editing the entire thing. I’ve shot the entire thing on an iPhone 11 and mostly with the native lens. I’ve challenged myself to go back to the basics to prove that you can still create something that can be art, and that I could do it with the bare minimum. I even specifically made sure that I was only buying the $30 or $50 lens, not the $200 ones, because I want to not only create something that’s a little bit cathartic for me, but so that other people can see that you can actually create something cool. I’m using FiLMiC Pro to shoot with and it’s been pretty good. I’m editing in Premiere Pro and it seems to be fine. It cuts well, it imports, it syncs well, and it’s not out of whack. The current versions of the gear work well together. I tried to do something about 2 or 3 years ago, and the audio files weren’t coming in correctly. But the current version of everything seems to work really well. It all flows well together.”
MisPlaced is set to make its début at 2021’s SmartFone FlickFest in November. Can you give us a little breakdown on what we can expect from the film?
“I’m doing SF3, and I’ve also got a couple of American festivals that want to run it, but right now SF3 is my only plan. The film is basically visual poetry. It’s contemplative and reflective. It’s called MisPlaced because it’s about this guy who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. He’s very attached to his mum, who dies unexpectedly at the beginning of the film. So from that point on, he loses his ability to speak. So you’re following him through this downward dive into a dark headspace and witnessing how his life falls apart, bit by bit. It’s like a cross between Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life and David Lynch’s Eraserhead. It’s a really strange little film. It’s really cool and I’m beyond excited about it.”
SF3 is currently accepting entries across all five categories up till September 1. Visit the official SF3 website today to submit your film, or to stay in touch with upcoming screening dates, ticket sales and prize announcements. Follow MisPlaced on Instagram.