Highlander/Vincent Ta
Highlander/Vincent Ta

Amongst the innovative new groups of fresh filmmakers is the UCR Department of Theatre, Film and Digital Productions, which held its second annual Smartphone Film Festival on Tuesday, Feb. 16 in the theater-like screening room of the INTS building. The festival was dedicated to showcasing eight short films that were filmed completely on a smartphone and that three judges from within the department had nominated for Best Drama, Best Music Video, Best Experimental and Best Comedy short film. According to Monique Mansour, a current creative writing graduate student and the host of the festival, “We created a film festival with smartphones because we wanted the students to work with something accessible instead of having to worry about large, inconvenient equipment.”

The essence of a movie is to capture another life through compelling storylines and complex characters. Conventionally, it takes an entire group of specialized crew members with extensive equipment to accomplish this goal. With the advent of the small, portable smartphone, however, anyone is able to press a red button on their screen and record both the sounds and sights of life around them. Although the concept of filming a short or full-length movie solely on a handheld device may never be adopted by the mainstream film industry, auteur filmmakers around the world are beginning to realize the potential behind a smartphone and its exceptional accessibility.

The festival began with the introduction of the three judges: Stuart “Stu” Krieger (professor of screenwriting), Keun Pyo Park (professor of directing and film production) and Annika Speer (lecturer of public speaking).

Once the judges were introduced, the festival began with the showings of the Best Drama nominations, with the award eventually going to “Iris” by Andrew Golden. “Iris” was a haunting narration of human experiences, such as “friends,” “sunsets” and “death,” in which a computerized female voice described a montage of memories and personal videos compiled from Golden’s own photo gallery, as well as those from his friends and family. The coldness of the robotic narrator made a striking contrast with the immediacy and vigor of the special moments displayed, bringing to surface the inevitable objectiveness of human existence and the fact that “all of these things are arbitrary.”

“Burning Memories” by Chrystal Kim and “Skip Divided” by Adam Wagner were also nominated for the Best Drama short film.

The serious, thought-provoking atmosphere of the first category switched gears to an empowering, spirited one with the showing of the winner of the Best Music Video, “We Shall Remain” by Kimberly Guerrero. The concept of the film was unique, for it didn’t follow an individual story but a collective story of the ceaseless grit of Native Americans throughout history. Various storytellers spoke above an energetic, hopeful song that Guerrero, her husband and her friends passionately produced themselves.

The Best Experimental short film was awarded to “Create Your Own Adventure,” by Carlos Viejobueno. “Create Your Own Adventure” began with a role-playing game vibe, having the first-person narrator walk through a deserted snow forest, then, after “dying” once, change the scenario by exploring a medieval castle. The cinematography of these two scenes from the film was stunning enough for one to be convinced that they were not shot from a smartphone. However, the audience was not expecting the exceptionally edited, hallucination-like time warp that amusingly transported the narrator from the medieval, wintry Schloss Verfolgen castle to the archaic, arid Wild West.

“Being Present” by Lydia Tso was also nominated for the Best Experimental short film.

The festival ended on a refreshing, light-hearted note with the winner of the Best Comedy short, “Last Student on Campus” by Charles Zhu. The film, which was impressively Zhu’s first comedic short, creatively utilized the UCR campus to give the illusion that only one student (actor Daniel Kim) was left. Zhu maintained a fun, authentic sense of humor by “improvising rather than using a script.”

“Lost” by Arian Khoroushi was nominated for Best Comedy short film.

After the last award was announced, Krieger commented, “The most impressive takeaway (from tonight) was story. The technology and the budget don’t matter. It’s all about the story.”

The quality and cinematography of each of the short films was thoroughly and unexpectedly  impressive. Although large production sets and high-paid professionals are at the forefront of Hollywood moviemaking, the convenience and versatility of a small, handheld smartphone makes being able to capture life always within reach.
Andrew Golden is the art director for the Highlander Newspaper.