BitDepth#915 - December 10

The Trinidad and Tobago Film Company launches a film festival just for smartphone users.
The no budget video contest
Christopher Laird, chairman of the T&T Film Company speaking at the launch of the Smartphone Film Festival. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The folks at the T&T Film Festival didn’t miss an opportunity to plead the case of local content at the launch of the Smartphone Film Festival.
Right from the start there was the plaintive, accusatory wail of Muhammad Muwakil of Freetown Collective to remind the audience of the current situation.
“I want to see me on my TV,” Muwakil sang.

I sat there, considering another discussion almost than 40 years ago at the script discussion sessions for Banyan’s Who the CAP fits at Bruce Paddington’s Mucurapo Road home when the discussion turned animated in considering what Eunice Alleyne’s character might say when she saw her activist son arrested on the television.
The final line? “But look the boy inside the people TV!”

How little has changed since then.
Film Company executives have hinted, cajoled, accused and generally courted local media to provide space for more locally produced video content and the response has been so negligible that it might be charitably described as nonexistent.

With the Smartphone Film Festival, though, they may be, by design or accident, embarking on another track, one that’s actually more in harmony with today’s trends in content consumption, which bypasses traditional media entirely in favour of direct to consumer driven channels like YouTube and Vimeo.

And then there’s the valuable strategy of grabbing the next generation of content consumers while they’re young.
A festival of films captured on modern smartphones sounds like just the lure to upgrade children from encouraging fights at school so they can be captured in shock clips to narratives that express their feelings in more accessible ways.

“We have a mandate to reach out to communities,” Carla Foderingham, CEO of the T&T Film Company (TTFC) told the small audience assembled for the launch.
“And that includes secondary schools.”

Eligible films will have been captured on either smartphones or tablets and will be no longer than five minutes in length. More detailed rules, regulations and restrictions will be published by the TTFC on its website and on a dedicated site for the project that will also serve as the contest’s upload point for submissions.
“I grew up with a phone that you dialed,” mused TTFC Chairman Christopher Laird.

“You spun a dial for a number, waited, then did it again. Now we are looking at phones that not only take pictures and video, but can also edit them.”
“It’s a new way of communicating, a new way of capturing our lives and new ways of sharing and distributing them.”

Several short smartphone films were shown, most of them brief, clever items that turned most successfully on a witty moment.
One, an excerpt from a hip-hop documentary, demonstrated the possibilities of the form with remarkable richness.

Dominic Koo who confessed to not actually owning a smartphone, offered up Missed Call, a short chase film shot on UWI’s campus that showed not only the possibilities of the medium, which can be quite urgent and rapid-fire, but also its limits, as the film moved into evening and finally night and the device struggled to work with diminishing levels of light.

Koo edited his film using Adobe Premiere, and contestants in the festival are not constrained from using professional products to finalise their projects for submission.
That means brings sophisticated tools like exposure compensation and colour grading to the table for any potential filmmaker to use in crafting the best possible product from their captured footage.

Koo suggested that participants explore trial versions of professional software as well as free editing tools to work on their projects.
That’s an opportunity to not only bring big guns to bear on their footage, but also to become familiar with the tools of modern digital filmmaking.

“We want to do something that has the potential to be fulfilling for a creator and to allow them to do so without having to spend a lot of money on equipment,” said Foderingham.
When it comes to doing an ambitious project without any funding to back it up, the TTFC is talking from a knowledgeable place. On Friday last week, the Smartphone Festival had no sponsors and no distribution channels.

Carla Foderingham would like to see the content on Caribbean Airlines, on national television, on the fast ferries to Tobago and San Fernando and on long haul buses, but given the enthusiasm those suggestions have stirred, it’s more likely that the films that emerge from this new effort will end up where most smartphone films thrive, on the web.

And with luck and some skill, also get viewed the mobile devices of local audiences keen to see themselves interpreted by a new generation of cinematic auteurs.
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