MWC: Mobile Backstage passes torch to Kevin Spacey

Don't expect the usual suspects at the annual Mobile Backstage event.

Previous headliners like Robert Redford and Isabella Rossellini have made way for two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey, who hosts the Mofilm Short Film Festival, while Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and MySpace founder and CEO Chris De Wolfe top the speaker lineup for the one-day conference-within-a-conference at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress on Thursday, Feb. 19.

"It's going to be better this year than it's ever been,' said Mofilm CEO and festival director Andy Baker. 'This year, we've set out to create a path for short filmmakers to be recognized and rewarded for the work they put in.'

The Mofilm festival celebrates short films (five minutes or less) ideal for viewing and sharing on mobile screen - after a jury of experts whittles down the entries to a shortlist of five, Mobile World Congress attendees will select the winner by voting via wireless device. Spacey will announce the winner, who will earn €10,000 ($12,964) in prize money.

Baker said this year's Mofilm festival received about 500 entries in all, spanning from animation to drama to horror. "Operators want film as a content genre, much as we have music - short films are fully accessible to mobile subscribers, but there is no recognized brand to do a distribution deal," Baker said.

"We will help facilitate that - we'll secure the content and the rights to distribute these films to the mobile community around the world."

Baker adds that Spacey is the perfect fit to host the festival - in 2002, the actor and director teamed with producer Dana Brunetti to found TriggerStreet.com, an interactive website established to discover and showcase emerging filmmaking and writing talent.

As for will.i.am, the rapper/producer will offer his perspective on the potential of the mobile channel as a bridge to connect artists to their global fanbase.

will.i.am is no stranger to Mobile World Congress. He also appeared at last year's Mobile Backstage conference, arguing that the biggest obstacle impeding the mobile music opportunity is the record industry's adherence to business models that are no longer relevant in today's world and corresponding failure to recognize that music is just one part of a larger "lifestyle culture" spanning from concert-going to fashion to user-generated content.

"Our music lives on a whole bunch of things," will.i.am said at Mobile Backstage 2008. "Fans care about new experiences they can share with their friends. Music is a very personal thing, but the synergy is the lifestyle. When artists and tech people start to collaborate on [mobile music discovery and distribution] tools, that's when everything will happen."

The speaker roster also includes Nokia's head of global music Elizabeth Schimel, O2's head of content Grahame Riddle, Omnifone's CEO Rob Lewis, Sony Ericsson's head of content acquisition and partner acquisition Martin Blomkvist, and Research In Motion's head of business development Pete Watson.

While Baker expects subjects like mobile video and digital music business models to galvanize the discussion among speakers and attendees alike, he said the global financial downturn will cast a shadow across the entire event: 'Right now, everybody is more focused on the world economy than on content.'

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