Robert Redford's SundanceInstitute is dipping an experimental toe in the mobile entertainment arena bycommissioning five original short films intended for viewing on cell phonesworldwide.
The three-to-five minutefilms will debut in Barcelona, on the opening day of next February's 3GSM WorldCongress, a mobile communications conference that attracts some fifty thousandtelecom-related professionals from around the world.
The Congress' organizer, theGSM Association, is Sundance's partner on this pilot project. The association,whose members serve more than 2 billion mobile phone customers worldwide, hopesto persuade its network of 700 mobile phone operators to disseminate theseshort films for free in a bid to generate viral interest in bespoke mobile filmcontent.
According to Redford, thisinitiative is just the first of several anticipated moves into new technologydelivery mechanisms by his 25-year-old Institute as it fulfills its mission ofnurturing film talent and opening up avenues for audiences to see their work.
Although he gave no furtherhints of impending deals, it is thought that Apple's iTunes service, whichrecently started offering movie downloads for iPod, is among the potential newplatforms being discussed for Sundance-branded indie films.
All the filmmakersparticipating in this Global Short Film project with GSM have all had(feature-length) films shown at the Sundance Film Festival, that takes placeeach year in Park City, Utah, in January.
The selected filmmakers,whose work embraces a wide stylistic and thematic spectrum, were given freeartistic rein in creating for this new medium - although they had to alsooperate under tight budget and time constraints.
The filmmakers are:* Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Their $9m debut, Little Miss Sunshine was snapped up for by Fox Searchlight for a $10.5m advance during Sundance and has since grossed more than $75m at the worldwide box office.
* Justin Lin. Following his low-budget Sundance breakthrough with Better Luck Tomorrow in 2002, Lin became a Hollywood studio director on The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift and is now in post production with the Bruce Lee-themed comedy Finishing The Game
* Maria Maggenti. She won acclaim with her Sundance debut The Incredibly True Adventures Of Two Girls in Love in 199 and then returned this year to Park City with Puccini For Beginners, which was made through the InDigEnt digital video collective.
* Cory McAbee. Already a cult figure on the San Francisco music scene, this singer/songwriter/electric auto-harpist has also made four films including The American Astronaut, a space cowboy sci-fi kitch-fest that was shown in Sundance 2001
* Jody Hill. The North Carolina-based filmmaker maxed out his credit cards to finish his $70,000 debut film, The Foot Fist Way, which premiered at Sundance this year before being picked up by Momentum in the UK and Paramount Vantage.
Given the vast potentialaudience of cell phone users, a worldwide customer base that is growing by athousand new users every minute, these filmmakers could now be exposed tohitherto unreachable markets. "Our intent is that these films will be watchedby more people than any other form of cinematic entertainment," declared BillGajda, chief marketing officer at the GSM Association.
In making the announcementon Tuesday in New York, Redford acknowledged that new technologies such asvideo-enabled mobile devices had prompted "a lot of freaking out" on the part ofthe entertainment industry as it comes to grips with the free-wheeling digitalworld.
Nonetheless, Redford saw insuch diversity of new platforms, far greater opportunities and exciting newartistic possibilities for those like Sundance that remain dedicated to thecontent creation side of the business.
The Sundance patron said hisown affection for short films stretched back to his days growing up as a kid inLos Angeles during the Second World War, where the chief escape was the localmovie-house with its "full viewing experience" of features, newsreeldocumentaries, animated cartoons and short films. Regrettably, he says, "thegreed factor has so taken over the exhibition experience" that there are noreal venues any more for short films.