Filmmaking in the Academy 2023
Sightlines Journal, Issue 5: 2023
Special Issue: Mobile and Smartphone Filmmaking - Past, Present & Future
Welcome to the fifth issue of Sightlines: Filmmaking in the Academy. This special issue of the journal is led by guest editorial lead, Associate Professor Max Schleser, and features a selection of works from the Mobile Innovation Network & Association (MINA).
In the Sightlines tradition, Mobile and Smartphone Filmmaking – Past, Present & Future showcases screen productions and films made in a research context within the higher education sector. These non-traditional research outputs interrogate various aspects of creative arts research, including interactive and collaborative processes, experimental moving-image arts approaches, discursive socio-political formations, or mobile specific formations such as selfies and vertical video. This special issue invited those who presented research work at the Mobile Studies Congress at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (December 2022) or screened a mobile or smartphone film previously at MINA’s International Mobile Innovation Screenings & Smartphone Film Festival (2011-2023) to submit a work for consideration. This resulting issue features 12 mobile and smartphone films. Seven of the creative practice research works were created between 2015 to 2021 and five more recent smartphone films and screen production research projects were produced in 2022.
MINA is the longest-running film festival in the Southern Hemisphere dedicated to mobile and smartphone filmmaking. In 2021, MINA celebrated its 10th edition. Further to this achievement, for its 12th edition, in 2023, it will for the first time also commission mobile films (Schleser and Davis 2023). As a networking project, MINA creates connections between filmmakers, communities, and creative industries internationally. Writing on this subject in Practice-based Research, Candy, Edmonds and Vear emphasise community building as innovative research practice, “...to gain traction, there need(s) to be strong and enabling communities of interest. […] Communities of common interest (develop) supportive structures for these new ventures in research and practice” ( 2021, 35). As a community, MINA worked with a number of institutions and was driven by what each collaborator brought to this dynamic space. An overview of the first years of MINA is presented in Ubiquity Journal of Pervasive Media (Schleser 2013) and the Digital Communities issue of MediaNZ (Thompson 2016 and Schleser 2016), which references all contributors and collaborators from the years 2011 to 2016. As MINA has gathered momentum as an organisation, mobile filmmaking has continued to evolve and expand into new forms and formats, from smartphone feature films to short mobile videos on social networking platforms.
The twelve screenworks that are featured in this special issue are arranged into two strands: current works (produced in 2022) and retrospective works. Each work has been double peer reviewed and is published with a research statement and researcher response to the reviewers, as is standard practice for Sightlines journal.
Our collection of works from 2022 begins with Patrick Kelly’s On Queer Selfies (2022). Kelly utilises smartphone filmmaking methods to creatively and self-reflexively document queer identity. The performative nature of the NTRO brings forth new ways to capture personal experiences, and comment more broadly on heteronormativity.
Drawing a parallel between the short videos of mobile filmmaking and beads threaded onto string, Felix Gyebi documents collaborative workshops with people from the Krobo community in Kukunor ni Tsu (2022). The film weaves together strands of ethnography, researcher reflection, community engagement, and a critique of colonialism, offering significant insights into Krobo culture from the filmmaker’s position, as being both inside and outside the community.
Aliens Among Us - a Film about People and their Dogs, explores the narrative possibilities of a database documentary using the Korsakow interactive software. Focused on the quotidian details of interactions between dogs and their humans, the film touches on the depth of feeling that is provoked when shorter lives become intertwined with longer lives.
Dafydd Sills-Jones’ Amrywiaethau Cafflogion #3: Uniongyrchol, Esgair Fraith, Alun (Cafflogion Variations #3: Vertical, Esgair Fraith, Alun) (2022) utilises vertical filmmaking to revisit the Welsh science fiction novella Cafflogion. This work explores how a vertical filmmaking approach and prescribed screen format influences and shapes the intent and possibilities of literary adaptation for the screen.
Using an audio-visual diary that explores the connections between the pandemic and the film production, Catherine Gough-Brady’s Creating 70+: Film Production Process as Relational Acts (2022) explores the way in which films are affected by the time and place in which they are made, the experiences of the people who film them (using iPhone), and the people who will view them.
Our collection of older works starts with Aparna Sharma’s Still Life (2021). Sharma explores the relationship between light and perceptions of place. The extreme accessibility of smartphone cameras encourages spontaneous exploration and documentation of how light can suggest moods and atmospheres connected to places. Still Life aims to explore connections between memory and place through rhythmic montage inspired by the tradition of Sergei Eisenstien.
In Ngannelong / Hanging Rock (2021) Martin Koszolko creates a short video that explores the affordances of mobile music and video making technologies. The work highlights multiple narratives and meanings in relation to place, and is based around his own visits to the Hanging Rock site.
Anna Chiara Sabatino’s Video-pharmakon: Mobile Filmmaking as Therapeutic Creative Practice (2021) demonstrates how mobile filmmaking contributes to clinical research and the development of therapeutic interventions for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder-1 (ASD-1) children and adolescents. This participatory approach between filmmakers and the research participants, from collaborative video making to group viewing, confirms the utility of mobile technology in multiple environments.
Letterbox Populi (2020) by Miranda Wilson was filmed in the weeks leading up to the general election in New Zealand/Aotearoa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to COVID-19 restrictions the interviews were captured via letterbox intercoms. This filmmaking approach creates a dual mediated space, as interviewees perceive the filmmaker through the video intercoms and the filmmaker views the intercoms through the smartphone camera.
David Cowlard’s Lung (2016), can be viewed as a piece of architectural reportage. It explores the contributions that screen media can make to architectural practice and criticism. In this work, depictions of repetitive actions over time aim to embody a human scale focused on habitation, and the choice of smartphone camera is intended to embrace the connectedness of the device to networks, and the world.
In Curtain (2016), Justin Harvey provokes an abstract experience of time as indivisible using a direct video feedback loop, and offers an experimental aesthetic not regularly seen on social media. The creative work uses the smartphone camera as a tool with which to break time up into innumerable pieces. This method is in vast contrast with regular modes of cinematography, which tends to arrest a singular moment in time.
Pau de Selfie (2015) by Hiran Matheus is an experimental short film, which can be situated in the context of Cinema Novo. The name of the film, which is translated from Portuguese as “selfie-stick,” is also the leitmotif, a personal journey through Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Eight years ago mobile filmmaking was developing alongside new forms and formats of mobile storytelling on social media platforms, which have both contributed to shaping contemporary online culture.
These twelve mobile and smartphone films showcase the possibilities and alternatives to mainstream filmmaking that exist in this dynamic and vibrant area of study. Novel developments in this area are increasingly driven by creative explorations, aesthetic refinements, and original creative processes to create non-traditional research outputs and bring new voices to the discussion of filmmaking in the academy. This special issue maps out these transformations with a focus on creative innovation in mobile media and screen production. In interdependency with a growing contextualisation of mobile and smartphone filmmaking in its various forms, formats and formations through publications (Atkinson 2014; Frankham 2016; Frankham and Caines 2019), monographs (Berry 2017; Prasad 2017; Baker 2019; Schleser 2021) and edited collections (Farman 2014; Berry and Schleser 2014; MacEntee, Burkholder and Schwab-Cartas 2016; Berry and Schleser 2018; Schleser and Xu 2021), mobile and smartphone film creative arts research outputs contribute to a number of research fields and contribute to the shaping of visual methodologies.
Thanks to Hannah Brasier for her work behind the scenes on this issue. We hope that you enjoy the screen works, and we look forward to continued conversation and debate.
Best of SF3 & MINA
Further to the editorial above, we offer a snapshot of mobile and smartphone filmmaking practice in a compilation reel of work from the SF3 SmartFone Flick Fest and the Mobile Innovation Network and Association (MINA) festival (embedded below). On a global scale, Australia is world leading with these two smartphone film festivals (Horrocks 2019). While both festivals have their own independent approaches and judges, the aim of this compilation is to map developments in smartphone filmmaking and to foreground internationally recognised Australian smartphone filmmakers. The reel’s films provide an overview of the continuous innovation and aesthetic refinement in smartphone filmmaking from 2017 to 2022. In order to define mobile and smartphone filmmaking one can examine these films in relation to broader works in this original film form and format. This screening reel establishes a keyframe for future analysis.
This creative practice research approach to curation examines mobile filmmaking’s development from an experimental form of moving image, to egalitarian film, to an emerging independent screen production form. The screening program below (curated by Max Schleser and Angela Blake in 2022) provides an overview of renowned international smartphone filmmakers such as Ren Thackham, Joel Perlgut, Jason van Genderen, Adrian Jeffs, Stephen Etrych, Andrew Robb, Sven Dreesbach, Luke Gesissbühler, Ryan Fox, and Max Schleser. Most of the included films received major awards at smartphone film festivals and/or more ‘traditional’ film festivals. Jason van Genderen’s short film was the starting point for a longer work that went on to garner an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards 2022 Best Documentary nomination.
The reel demonstrates how
Smartphone filmmaking is now found in all domains from professional to first time filmmaker, in experimental and narrative filmmaking, in feature films and micro stories. MINA embraces all developments but does not lose the accessibility out of sight. In the last five years, smartphones significantly increased in their price points (at the time of writing the program iPhone 14 Pro Max costs almost $2000), and similarly, some apps changed to elite subscription models.
The screening reel below premiered at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) as part of Australia’s first national program of smartphone filmmaking, a joint venture by SF3 and MINA, and was disseminated to the wider public via ACMI’s Cinema 3 streaming platform. As part of the smartphone film festival Schleser organised a roundtable discussion for smartphone filmmakers and smartphone film festival directors. This panel provides an insider perspective (Merton 1972; Dwyer and Buckle 2009) and forms a community of practice (Wenger 1999) around production and exhibition of smartphone films. As there is no national or international body or organisation for smartphone filmmaking, this research project established a peer-to-peer approach for new knowledge creation and support to advance the dynamic field of mobile and smartphone filmmaking. The films have been selected to speak to diverse approaches of smartphone filmmaking featuring narrative, non-fiction, and non-narrative approaches. Particular attention was paid to establishing an alternative discourse to bring stories and non-conventional filmmaking approaches to the big screen and streaming via ACMI’s Cinema 3.
Max Schleser and Angela Blake: Director, Curator
Title of work: Best of SF3 and MINA
Length: 52 minutes 38 seconds
Atkinson, Sarah. 2014. Beyond the Screen Emerging Cinema and Engaging Audiences. London: Bloomsbury.
Baker, Camille. 2019. New Directions in Mobile Media and Performance. Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
Berry, Marsha. 2017. Creating with Mobile Media. Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Candy, Linda, Ernest Edmonds, and Craig Vear. 2021. “Practice-based research.” In The Routledge International Handbook of Practice-Based Research, edited by Craig Vear, 27-41. Milton Park: Routledge.
Dwyer, Sonya C, and Jennifer L Buckle. 2009. “The Space Between: On Being an Insider-Outsider in Qualitative Research.” International Journal of Qualitative Methods 8 (1): 54-63. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940690900800105.
Farman, Jason. 2014. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technology. Milton Park: Routledge.
Frankham, Bettina. 2016. "Writing with the Small, Smart Screen: Mobile Phones, Automated Editing and Holding on to Creative Agency." Journal of Writing in Creative Practice 9: 47-66. https://doi.org/10.1386/jwcp.9.1-2.47_1.
Frankham, Bettina, and Chris Caines. 2019. "Mobile Reception: Materiality and Locality with Small Screens." In The Palgrave Handbook of Screen Production, edited by Craig Batty, Marsha Berry, Kath Dooley, Bettina Frankham, and Susan Kerrigan, 375-388. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Horrocks, Si. 2019. “THE WORLD'S BEST SMARTPHONE FILM FESTIVALS.” Mobile Motion Film Festival. https://momofilmfest.com/best-smartphone-film-festivals/.
MacEntee, Katie, Casey Burkholder, and Joshua Schwab-Cartas, eds. 2016. What’s a Cellphilm? Integrating Mobile Phone Technology into Participatory Visual Research and Activism. Rotterdam: SensePublishers.
Merton, Robert K. 1972. “Insiders and Outsiders: A Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge.” The American Journal of Sociology 78 (1): 9-47. Doi:10.1086/225294.
Prasad, Sylvie E. 2017. Creative Mobile Media : A Complete Course. London: World Scientific.
Schleser, Max. 2013. “MINA–Mobile Innovation Network Aotearoa and FILMOBILE.” Ubiquity: The Journal of Pervasive Media 2 (1): 105-115.
Schleser, Max. 2021. Smartphone Filmmaking - Theory and Practice. New York: Bloomsbury.
Schleser, Max. 2022. “11th International Smartphone Film Festival: The MINA and SF3 Smartphone Film Festival at ACMI, 'MINA2022', 18-20 November 2022, Melbourne, Australia.” MINA, Mobile Innovation Network and Association. https://researchbank.swinburne.edu.au/items/15a9f055- a519-421f-a9ec-a94d69a67a13/1/?search=%2Fsearching.do&index=21& available=79981.
Schleser, Max, and Marsha Berry. 2014. Mobile Media Making in an Age of Smartphones. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Schleser, Max, and Marsha Berry. 2018. Mobile Story Making in an Age of Smartphones. Cham: Palgrave Pivot.
Schleser, Max, and Therese Davis. 2023. “MINA XII: Call for Smartphone Films and Six Mobile Film Commissions.” Mobile Innovation Network and Association. https://mina.pro/mina-xii/.
Schleser, Max, and Xiaoge Xu. 2021. Mobile Storytelling in an Age of Smartphones. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Thompson, Kirsten Moana, Allan Cameron, and Misha Kavka. 2016. “Introduction: Digital Communities.” MediaNZ 16 (1): 1-98. https://doi.org/10.11157/medianz-vol17iss2id194.
Wenger, Etienne. 1999. Community of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
On Queer Selfies
Patrick Kelly: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 8 minutes and 25 seconds
The video essay On Queer Selfies (2022) utilises material from the researcher’s previous smartphone films North (2013), #Selfie #NoFilter (2014), Quo Grab #01 (2017a), Quo Grab #02 (2017b), What’s With Your Nails? (2018), and The Trouble (2021), as well as additional video and photographs from a personal archive of smartphone material. As Jack Halberstam argues, “If we try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices, we detach queerness from sexual identity” (Halberstam 2011, 1).
Kukunor ni Tsu
Felix Gyebi: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 24 minutes and 37 seconds
This cellphilm, Kukunor ni Tsu, which literally means Trash to Treasure explores the recycling of glass into beads for both ceremonial purposes and retail as a fashionable commodity. This bead culture use reflects the lifestyle of the Krobo people, from childhood to adulthood to death rites. In the last decade, the mobile phone and more recently smartphones can be described as one of the most disruptive technologies in Africa due to providing widespread access to storytelling tools and digital literacies for the first time.
Aliens Among Us
Liz Burke: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 12 minutes and 16 seconds
Aliens Among Us – a Film About People and their Dogs is a creative-practice research project generating new knowledge about the affordances of the non-linear film, which also functions as a personal essay film, and has been filmed mainly using a mobile cameraphone. It uses Korsakow software as its building block, which uses word based tagging to build its narrative world.
Amrywiaethau Cafflogion #3: Uniongyrchol, Esgair Fraith, Alun
Words: R Gerallt Jones
Performance: Roger Owen
Camera & Editing: Dafydd Sills-Jones
Length: 12 minutes and 19 seconds
This short film is the third in a series of variations on a novella written in Cymraeg (Welsh) in 1979. It tells the story of an off-grid settlement under the shadow of a totalitarian, urban civilisation (Jones, 1979). In order to adopt an emerging, evolutionary practice, we have used mobile, agile and low-fi media making tools, in this instance, using an iphone 13 pro max to examine the potentialities of vertical filmmaking.
Creating 70+: Film Production Process as Relational Acts
Catherine Gough-Brady: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 11 minutes and 43 seconds
This film is in the form of an audio-visual diary that explores the connections between the pandemic and film production. Underlying this connection is the way in which films are affected by the time and place in which they are made, the experiences of the people who make them, and the people who will view them. Included in this relational understanding of filmmaking is the experience of filming with an iPhone, as the equipment used affects the relationships captured in the footage.
Aparna Sharma: Director, Researcher
Length: 3 mins and 7 seconds
Still Light (2021) is an experimental film composed of still images shot and edited on a mobile phone. The film comes from my interest as a camera-person in the role light plays in the making of images. In this work I examine how light may be composed within framed space, rather than being principally used to illuminate elements within it, as is cinematographic convention.
Ngannelong / Hanging Rock
Martin Koszolko: Director, Researcher
Length: 3 minutes and 35 seconds
Ngannelong / Hanging Rock is a music video resulting from my practice-led research into the affordances of mobile music and video making technologies. The video and field audio were recorded during one of the respites in between multiple lockdowns in Melbourne, Australia, 2020-2021. The track features samples recorded on location at Ngannelong, also known as Hanging Rock in central Victoria, Australia, where the people from the Kulin nation have lived for more than 26,000 years.
Video-pharmakon: Mobile Filmmaking as Therapeutic Creative Practice
Anna Chiara Sabatino: Director, Lead Researcher
Gianluigi Foglia: Participant, Patient
Antonio Iannone: Participant, Patient
Valeria Saladino: Psychologist, Researcher
Length: 6 minutes and 2 seconds
Video-Pharmakon is the title and audiovisual outcome of a clinical research-intervention project aimed at Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD-1, DSM-5) 8-25 year old kids and adolescents. Within a Narrative Medicine framework, the experimental protocol implemented by the therapeutic team consists in an interdisciplinary integrated approach involving multiple video-based techniques (from Cinematherapy to Documentary Videotherapy) and an increasing degree of participation for patients, involved in the therapeutic Filmmaking documentary field.
Miranda Wilson: Writer, Director, Camera, Editor, Researcher
Length: 10 minutes and 58 seconds
“Exhausted Montage” (2019), the unsettlingly enervating title of Sarah Hamblin’s interrogation of the decline of the radical aesthetic imagination, conjures up ideas of political cinema in need of a cup of tea and a lie down. Hamblin locates the origins of this state of fatigue in the insatiable, agnostic appetites of capitalism that has been able to “absorb revolutionary energies into itself” (2019, 367). Hamblin’s suggested corrective, a reengagement with “micropolitical sites of struggle” (2019, 368), aligns closely with the interests of this creative practice research project, Letterbox Populi.
David Cowlard: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 3 minutes and 38 seconds
One of the key research questions I explore with this film is how short form video, filmed on a smartphone, can contribute to a wider critical engagement with architecture and the built environment. I am interested both in the way that the handling of a smartphone camera can allow for a more direct, embodied filming experience, as well as the possibilities for how locational information and networked annotations can further inform a type of architectural reportage that directly reference the everyday, lived, experiences within the built environment.
Justin Harvey: Director, Producer, Researcher
Length: 2 minutes and 2 seconds (seamless video loop)
Curtain (2016) is one of a series of video artworks created by Justin Harvey through the shaping of digital video feedback loops using an iPhone camera, WI-FI network, and LED television. Video cameras convert light into an electronic (analogue) signal or digital string of data that can be transmitted to a video monitor. By turning the camera on its own output, a video feedback loop is instantiated.
Pau de Selfie
Hiran Matheus: Mobile Filmmaker, Researcher
Length: 18 minutes and 50 seconds
Pau de Selfie, Portuguese for “Selfie-Stick”, is an experimental short film produced at Fluminense Federal University (UFF) in the Cinema & Audio-visual program in 2015. UFF is one of the most prestigious public filmmaking colleges in Brazil, founded by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, precursor of the Brazilian Cinema Novo.
Issue 5, 2023
Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association
ISSN: 2653-1801 (Online)
Max Schleser, Swinburne University of Technology
Pieter Aquilia, Australian Film, Television and Radio School
Marsha Berry, RMIT University
Kath Dooley, University of South Australia
Bettina Frankham, University of Technology Sydney
Phoebe Hart, Queensland University of Technology
James Verdon, Swinburne University of Technology