Posted : 2011-02-23 17:46
Updated : 2011-02-23 17:46

Smartphones democratize cinema

Director Lee Joon-ik poses for his iPhone camera at Lotte Cinema Konkuk University, Seoul, Monday. The cineaste met with The Korea Times to speak about chairing the jury for the Olleh Lotte Smartphone Film Festival, the country's first event inviting non-filmmakers to submit short films shot with cellular phones. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Filmmaking in the palm of your hand

By Lee Hyo-won

On Saturday, the Park brothers, Chan-wook and Chan-kyong, picked up the Golden Bear at the Berlinale for a 30-minute movie shot with an iPhone 4. On Monday, a local film festival handed out prizes to 14-year-olds for their smartphone creations. On Tuesday, the Jeonju International Film Festival announced that it will release a new selection for cell phone-produced works.

Not too long ago the cinema industry saw new possibilities through digital works, but now, filmmaking is only a push of a button away in the palm of your hand — through smartphones with high-definition video cameras and even editing applications all-in-one.

“This is truly cinema democracy,” director Lee Joon-ik, who chaired the jury of the inaugural Olleh Lotte Smartphone Film Festival, told The Korea Times, Monday, in Seoul.

“Before, filmmaking was specialized, limited to a small number of experts that played specific roles. But smartphones allow consumers (moviegoers) to become producers (filmmakers) — it’s the start of a revolutionary new age, with extraordinary possibilities for a new audiovisual language.”

Lee himself, best known for directing period epics such as “King and the Clown,” starred as an actor in a smartphone film, “Nongbanjinban,” by cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon. The short piece was shown in last October’s iPhone 4 Film Festival, which was a precursor to the Olleh Lotte event.

“Acting was really for fun, and the same goes for judging the festival. These projects require minimal budget, and allow non-actors to act and non-filmmakers to film. I heard Steven Spielberg played with a video camera when he was six; but today a three-year-old can fiddle around with a cell phone.”

The festival’s poster reads “Awaken the Spielberg Within You” — indeed, junior high school students to white-collar workers that once dreamt of making movies submitted works. The festival received about 470 applications of which a handful received cash prizes amounting to about $25,000 and coveted gifts such as iPads and iPhone 4s.

“What distinguishes this film festival from others is that it encourages everyone to make movies, and not just cineastes and aspiring filmmakers. There were really zany, offhand works among the submissions. I heard one applicant even shot a ‘3D film’ using two smartphones,” said Lee.

And yet, while the new medium expands horizons to a bigger pool of potential filmmakers, the essence of cinema does not change — a good movie will always be grounded in creative storytelling.

“A new tool changes how you make something but not necessarily what you make,” the director emphasized.

Lee fiddled with his iPhone 4 during the entire interview. Though he is not an avid user of the device’s audiovisual tools, he expressed great enthusiasm for technological ventures. “Currently, analogue and digital films coexist, but it’s a matter of time until cinema becomes fully digitalized. There won’t be a pioneer, and everyone will stand at the same starting point.”

In the meantime, Lee is enjoying a high box office ranking for his latest period comedy “Pyongyang Castle.” Future projects include perhaps challenging “Avatar,” as he hopes to venture into 3D animations one day.

Homemade pet video wins fest

A stray cat, a friend who can act and an iPhone 4 — Min Byung-wu needed just three ingredients to create his award-winning short, “Stray Cats.”

His homemade pet video, which required just $200 and a week of filming, won him the Olleh Lotte Smartphone Film Festival’s Platinum Smart Award, the grand prize comprising of some $10,000 and a new iPhone 4.

Moreover, his work is being shown everyday on the silver screen at a local theater.

It was only after Min began shooting that he heard about the film festival. “I was really lucky,” he said.

It was only after Min began shooting that he heard about the film festival. “I was really lucky,” he said. The 28-year-old theater student was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the audiovisual functions on his phone, and decided to make a piece about his cat.

But afraid it might end up being a lame home video, he scripted his pet story into a metaphor for romantic relationships, drawing from his own experiences. “Stray Cats” is plural because a cat breaks the protagonist’s heart, just like a woman, he said.

A young man returns home, heartbroken after being dumped by his girlfriend, when a hungry stray cat enters his house. He becomes fond of the creature and bathes and feeds her, and even gives her a name. But just when Nabi becomes an inseparable part of his life, she cannot suppress her “stray” instincts and leaves him, only to return when she needs him — just like his ex.

The film, featuring witty dialogues carefully edited, was a thoroughly engaging audiovisual entertainment. Moreover, the dynamics between the actor and cat are impressive to say the least — working with animals, along with babies, remains one of the most notoriously difficult projects in cinema.

Working with a phone, however, enabled Min to realize his script.

“It’s true that with animals you cannot control their actions and there are bound to be accidents. But because I always had my phone on me, I was able to capture fleeting moments whenever I came across them. I also had videos of my cat that I took on a daily basis and used them,” he said.

“I also felt confident about because I knew I could control my own pet. I lured him into doing things using toys. If I had rented a professional camera and worked with crew members, it probably would have been more difficult.”

Min said he spent most of his budget on meals, decorating the set — his own home — and creating makeshift iPhone accessories.

“There are zoom accessories or camera lenses you can attach, but they are expensive. So I didn’t use them, and made whatever I needed, such as a tripod.”

For lighting, he used fixtures inside his house, along with a desk lamp for additional illumination. For outdoor night scenes, he hunted his neighborhood for the brightest street lamp. (Similar to how the multiple award-winning indie flick, “Daytime Drinking,” featured its titular daytime drinking scenes because the filmmaker couldn’t afford lighting equipment).

In the future, Min plans to use his smartphone again if it suites the nature of the film.

Other awardees include Kwon Jin-heui, who won the Gold Smart Award for her nifty philosophical musings about bugs, “The Idea of Creation”; Kang Dong-heon, who claimed the Silver Smart Award for an endearing story about a young man romancing a former basketball player, “Sarang-eui samjeom shut” (Three Point-Shot of Love); and Lee Dae-young, who took home the Bronze Smart Award for “Nae ssaeggi” (My Baby), about a grandmother babying her iPhone.

Special awards went to two 14-year-old students, Park Jin-wu and Tae Hyeon-seok, for their teenage drama “Hero,” and singer Narsha, who shot a horror story, “Chodaebatji mothan sonnim” (Uninvited Guest), for a television program. Singer Noh Sa-yon and actress Yoo In-na, who starred in the latter film, accepted the award on Narsha’s behalf.

“My teenage son is always filming things with his phone, I should tell him to submit a piece next year,” Noh said.

The four top prize-winning works are being shown every evening at 8 p.m. at Lotte Cinema Konkuk University, Seoul. Moviegoers will automatically enter a draw to win a free iPad at each screening. Following the theatrical release, the films will be screened through the festival’s website ( and other channels.

JIFF to hold smartphone film fest

The Jeonju International Film Festival (JIFF), Korea’s leading indie and arthouse cinema event, is accepting submissions for its inaugural smartphone film section, JIFF Phone Film Festival.

The festival, which opens its 12th edition in April, is accepting works beginning Feb. 28 through March 20. Ten works will be selected to screen during the event and the top three will receive cash prizes amounting to about $6,000.

“The JIFF Phone Film Festival, co-hosted by JIFF and Daum Communication, is expected to provide a new platform for communication by allowing anyone to produce and share movies,” said organizers.

Works should be filmed with a smartphone and run about five minutes long.

Beginning Feb. 28, those interested can download an application form at and email it to Call (063) 280-7911 for more information.
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