Redford: Big chance for short films on mobile

Cinema legend Robert Redford touts the mobile platform as the ideal distribution channel for the short-form productions so central to his personal vision for independent filmmaking, arguing "Technology doesn't get traction until artists push their way into it and conjoin with it--the more art lends itself to new technology, it's going to drive it in new commercial ways."

Speaking in Barcelona today at the Mobile Backstage event, produced for Mobile World Congress by the GSM Association in conjunction with Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, the actor, filmmaker and activist explored at length the challenges of maintaining creative independence in a Hollywood environment driven solely by the bottom line. According to Redford, he launched his independent film-development nonprofit Sundance Institute in 1981 in response to a big-budget moviemaking culture growing more and more reliant on proven commodities, special effects and youth-targeted storytelling.

"The wonderful thing about stories is there are so many to be told, which is why I've had little interest in, or patience, for sequels," Redford said. "I think there are too many stories to waste time repeating a story that was already told." He said The Sundance Channel and its accompanying independent film festival were "not meant to be an insurgency against, but an alternative to. There have always been tensions within the industry between artists and leaders around money--it's just a business. With the youth market increasing and technology increasing, it was easy to see the industry was going in that direction, but not, I hoped, at the sake of diversity. My response was 'What if we created a mechanism for new talent and a place for them to go-specifically, independent film."

In late 2006, Sundance announced its entry into mobile entertainment, teaming with the GSM Association to launch the Sundance Film Festival: Global Short Film Project, an initiative spotlighting three-to-five minute shorts made exclusively for screening on mobile handsets. The shorts premiered at 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona one year ago.

The mobile project grew out of Redford's lifelong passion for the short-film model. "When I was a kid growing up and going to the movies, you got one or two features, Pathé newsreels, cartoons and shorts. I took it all for granted, but what I didn't realize until I got into the business is what a travesty it is that we removed all these parts of the experience of film. So as time went on, I thought 'We're missing something, but [shorts were] so long ago, maybe we can reintroduce that and it will be something new.' I believed that someday, something will happen, and there will be a venue for shorts. Art will always survives--you commit to that idea and create a category, and it may not be ready yet, but someday it will. Now there is a venue for shorts."

Sundance's commitment to developing short content for mobile consumption is now expanding beyond the wireless platform--cable's Sundance Channel will begin broadcasting the mobile shorts alongside feature films and original programming. "The adjustments filmmakers make to make [a mobile short] and the disciplines that are put into play are fabulous, and there are new forms of storytelling coming," Redford said. "I don't think we've explored all the possibilities yet. The only thing you know will keep going is change. If you can't ride with it as a wave, you're out." -Jason