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Sundance puts cell phones in the spotlight

Recognizing mobile video as a new medium, the filmmaking institute is piloting a program to showcase indie shorts made just for phones. Video: Robert Redford thinks small

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
3 min read
Robert Redford's independent film organization is teaming with a global trade association for mobile operators to launch a project showcasing short films specifically designed for mobile phones.

The six participating filmmakers, who will create 3- to 5-minute films, have all screened films at the institute's Sundance Film Festival. They include Nathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, creators of Little Miss Sunshine, and Maria Maggenti, creator of Puccini for Beginners. The shorts will debut at the 3GSM World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, in February.

Credit: Marguerite
Robert Redford

Redford's Sundance Institute joined forces with the GSM Association (GSMA). "Sundance was created to become a place for creating new voices in film and to nurture that development," Redford said Wednesday at the Robert Redford Museum of Television & Radio in New York. "The cell phone represents a new venue for where we go next."

During the 3GSM show, attendees will be able to download the movies from the Sundance Institute's Web site or download the films from a booth on the floor using Bluetooth technology. GSMA Chief Marketing Officer Bill Gajda, whose group is comprised of Global System for Mobile Communications operators, also said the shorts would be available for download by some of the Spanish mobile operators.

The actor and filmmaker said his organization is working with mobile operators around the world to offer the movies as part of their video services after 3GSM concludes. Redford also said the short movies would be available on other portable devices, although he did not specifically say which ones.

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Video: Robert Redford thinks small
CNET's Rich DeMuro talked to Redford after the filmmaker announced a pilot program promoting movies for mobile phones.

Most of the video content available today on cell phones is repurposed TV shows or news broadcasts. But some TV networks, including Fox, have also been developing short series, called mobisodes, for cell phones. Sundance claims it's the first to commission high-caliber independent filmmakers to create original stories specifically for the mobile environment, but independent filmmakers have been turning to the medium on their own.

While mobile video has been around for more than a year in most markets, few consumers seem interested in watching it. According to a recent JupiterResearch poll, an overwhelming 88 percent of respondents said they had no desire to watch video on a portable device.

Part of the reason, at least in the U.S. market, is that consumers must sign up for special data packages on top of their monthly voice fees to get access to the video clips. Sprint Nextel offers three data packages for $15, $20 and $25 per month. Verizon Wireless has a service it calls V Cast that costs $15 per month or $3 for the day.

Another hurdle could be the quality of the video being offered. Redford said producing a story in such a short form is a challenge. But he believes Sundance's independent filmmakers are up to the challenge.

"Quality certainly enters the picture," Redford said. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but Sundance has built up an image that represents a certain kind of film. And we expect to tie ourselves to that image in this medium too."