Cellphone filmmaking (cellphilmmaking) is a fast emerging global phenomenon. Owing to the convergence of technologies, the cellphone has entered the film industry and become a viable production and consumption medium. Convergence has made possible for people to produce and consume content – prosumption. As a result, in Africa, where almost 50% of people have access to a cellphone, cellphilmmaking offers serious potential for filmmakers.
Producing, distributing and consuming cellphilms
The cellphone poses its own aesthetics. The small screen and camera quality have placed specific restraints on production. However, this does not mean that cellphilms cannot perform…
The Sacred Orchid is a kung fu cellphilm, which demonstrates some of the aesthetic elements of cellphilms. The film (philm) is a short and highly effective bite sized movie. The shots don’t venture much beyond close and mid shots, camera movements and angles are fairly simple, special effects feel relatively rudimentary in comparison to traditional filmmaking practices (albeit effective) and the sound quality suffices.
The narrative structure and plot are tight, linear, and rely heavily on the unfolding of the immediate events to drive it. There is little in the way of dialogue, with sound effects driving the aural element. Character development is based on caricatures and simple binaries to establish meaning – i.e. white signifies good and black signifies evil.
Despite these limitations, it is an excellent example of cellphilms and is of relatively high quality. It also shows how new media often become the repositories for old media techniques – the philm is an almost perfect miniature kung fu film. These characteristics are also suited to end-user contexts. Generally, cellphilms are watched to briefly pass time such as in travelling from one place to another. Audiences want short and easily “digestible” content that is visually effective, requires little concentration, and the narrative is easily understood.
With regards to consumption, cellphones present new mobile platforms where television and film can be consumed anywhere, anytime and anyhow (provided the relevant infrastructure is in place). Content can also be uploaded from handsets and made available to consumers through social networking platforms such as You Tube and Facebook, as done so by the World Film Collective (WFC).
Cellphilms: alternative mediascapes
Cellphilms potentially offer various advantages to Africa. Two central areas are in representation and encouraging citizen engagement.
Cellphilms offer a critique to mainstream/corporate media representations of people. Where mainstream/corporate media offer generalised and sensationalised representations, cellphilms allow for people to generate their own representations about themselves, and their worlds (see Shane on the WFC website).
Cellphilms, through engaging unheard voices, can establish a collaborative working relationship between ordinary citizens and those in power. Social partnerships can be established through the generation and maintenance of micro public spheres, where democratic attitudes can be fostered (See the WFC and Voices of Africa websites).
Obviously, optimism needs to be tempered. ICT infrastructure and development in Africa leaves much to be desired. Democracy is also a relatively new concept in Africa; cellphilms may offer the potential to foster democratic attitudes, but whether these attitudes are allowed to develop by authorities, without hindrance, is questionable. Not only this, cellphilmmaking is a ‘learned’ practice. Not everyone with a cellphone makes cellphilms.
In South Africa, the means for cellphones to act as production and consumption devices is being developed. The South African government has awarded a mobile TV broadcasting licence to an, as yet, unknown broadcaster. I can only really speak from a South African perspective.
However, new media’s time has come with regards to filmmaking. Considering the sheer number of cellphones in Africa, it’s just a matter of when cellphilms in Africa will take their place.
This above commentary on Films, Films, Philms: Re-thinking films and TV with cellphoneshas been edited to comply our editorial word limit. If you would like to read the unedited copy of this research paper, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org