Not long ago, you could only make a film if you had access to money for expensive equipment and other resources. But today, high-quality digital video cameras are inexpensive enough for almost anybody to purchase, and beyond that, video-capture technology is getting better on devices many people already own, like cell phones and point-and-shoot camera.
In other words, you can be a filmmaker, starting today, with nothing more than your cell phone.
That’s the message that Eric Slatkin and Carlton Evans want to get out with their Disposable Film Festival, which opens tonight at the Roxie with a competitive program of shorts, and continues with a single program each day through the weekend. Each program showcases film made with “disposable media,” which, according to Slatkin, is “video footage captured on these new alternative devices — the cell phone, the web cam, the point-and-shoot camera,” as well as a whole new generation of inexpensive video cameras, such as the Creative Vado, the Flip Video Ultra, and the Kodak Zi6.
All these devices were originally made for personal documentary purposes, but together they have “opened up the floodgates” by enabling anyone to make a film. In a joint phone interview conducted last week, Evans pointed out that now, “everybody has access to these devices. Five years ago, if you had a casual impulse to make a film, you really wouldn’t have been able to do it” for lack of equipment and finances. “It’s getting so cheap,” Evans said. “For example, the Kodak Zi6 [which can record 10 hours of high-definition video] is in the $180 range.”
However, Slatkin and Evans see more than just a change in the technology of filmmaking; they believe that these technological changes are driving an aesthetic shift. “It’s not just that people are making films with these devices,” Evans said. “They’re actually transforming the way that films are being made. A new aesthetic is emerging.”
Because the media is “disposable” — footage costs nothing more than a little battery power, and can be thrown out instantly — Slatkin and Evans see a strong shift towards experimentation. Filmmakers are doing things one could never do with expensive equipment, such as on-the-fly shooting and kinetic filming. They believe that all this experimentation will inevitably influence mainstream filmmaking. In fact, it already has. Evans cited Cloverfield, which was presented as found footage from a camcorder, as an example of this influence. “This is an aesthetic that everybody understands right away,” he said.
Some people are already masterful in the form, such as Fritz Donnelly, who will have an evening devoted to his work Saturday night at ATA. “He was a disposable filmmaker before it was even a ‘thing,’ ” Evans said. “I first saw his work in the Hi/Lo Festival,” which is a festival devoted to high-concept-low-budget films. Later on, Evans met him at SXSW, and in November Donnelly showed Evans and Slatkin the films he’d recently been making with his cell phone. A lot of Donnelly’s films are quick sketches created on the spot whenever he has an idea. “He had been carrying around this DV cam, but now he just uses his phone,” Evans said.
On Friday night, also at ATA, the festival features Buttons, by Red Bucket Films, which is a feature-length collection of tiny vignettes from real life, a kind of impressionistic sketchbook portrait of New York City. “These guys are true filmmakers,” Slatkin said, “and sometimes there’s a magic poignancy they reach” in these moments.
Tonight’s program, at the Roxie, consists of twenty-five short films shown over an hour and twenty minutes. (The first screening has already sold out, but they have added a screening at 10:00.) These films were selected from about 300 submissions. “The thing that was most amazing about it,” Evans said, “is that about 30 different countries were represented in that.” In the final program, there are films from Poland, Ukraine, Brazil, Portugal, and other countries in addition to the US and Canada.
In case you can’t make it, all the shorts will eventually be featured on the DFF website, but Slatkin says they have continued to put on shows at traditional venues because “there are real limitations in viewing a creative work online.” According to Slatkin, films shown in a theater tend to have more of an emotional impact on the viewer, because of the large screen, the darkened room, and the communal nature of the experience.
Finally, on Sunday at noon, the festival will present a panel hosted at Oddball Films at 275 Capp Street. The panel will discuss how you can get into disposable filmmaking yourself, addressing all the basic details of equipment and editing software.
And if you happen to take that information and make a film you’d like to enter in the festival for next year, submissions will open in March or April. Watch their website for details.