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By Phil Hall | May 31, 2005

Film festivals can turn up in the weirdest places: in a bar (the Light+Screen Film Festival at the Siberia Bar in New York), on a decommissioned aircraft carrier (Visionfest, held on the USS Intrepid anchored in New York’s Hudson River), and even in a Holiday Inn (the New Haven Underground Film Festival).

But for the strangest venue, the upcoming Robotube Games Mobile Film Fest, takes the cake and whole bakery: it may very well be the world’s first film festival to take place on a cell phone.

Robotube Games LLC is a mobile and online game development studio based in New Haven, Connecticut. While their primary mission has been the creation of entertainment programs designed to be played on cell phones, they have taken the cell phone technology to new and perhaps unexpected lengths by bringing original motion pictures (actually, short films running three minutes or less) to the cell phone screens.

The festival is slated to kick off in the fall; entry forms can be found online at the Robotube Games Film Fest website. Admission (if you can call it that) will be free.

Film Threat spoke with Jason Cirillo, partner and creative director at Robotube Games, about the unusual marriage of cell phones and film festivals.

Getting people to watch films on the Internet took years to accomplish. Do you feel it will be easier to turn cell phones into a film-viewing venue?
I’m not so sure it will be “easy,” but it will happen for sure, and it may be easier than the Internet, since purely digital films were a new thing with the Internet, and now it’s old hat. The great thing about films on cell phones is that pretty much everyone has a cell phone. I know lots of people who have cell phones and don’t have broadband. You’re guaranteed to reach a very wide audience, and the viewer base will increase every year.

It will be a different viewing experience than the Internet. This is more time based so the content needs to be shorter in length and designed around the medium. I think the successful films will be created for the medium not repurposed from other channels. We are seeing the first wave of entertainment happen with ringtones and games so people are starting to use the cell phone as a content delivery system and not just for voice. The key to success here will be films that are engaging, enjoyable and ones that deliver a satisfying experience. Same as any other distribution channel.

You are keeping your films at running times of three minutes or less. Why are you working with such short running times?
There are two reasons, one being technology constraints, and the other, which I feel is the most important, is attention span. We’re mobile game developers by trade, and we’ve found that the most fun and playable cell phone games are those that you can play in five minutes or less. The screen is tiny, the speakers are tinny, and while this stuff will all improve, right now, people just don’t have the patience to look at a screen that small for that long. Of course, as technology improves, the films will get longer.

Do you foresee the possibility of feature films finding their way into cell phones?
Absolutely! It’s back to the “attention span” theory. Full films are already playable and enjoyed on PDA’s and pocket gaming devices like the Sony PSP. It’s only a matter of time and memory before we see full length films on cell phones. Some device manufacturers are already announcing 10 Gigabyte models.

However, we think the most successful films will be the ones created for specifically this format.

Will the films in the Robotube Film Festival be made available elsewhere (for Net viewing, on a DVD compilation, etc.)?
It’s possible, but we have not yet decided on this. It will depend on the quality and volume of the submissions plus the approval of the filmmakers. If we do a hard format release, we need to know that we’re making a good quality product with great entertainment value.

Are you aware of Hollywood studios making previews and trailers of their big budget films available to cell phone users?
Of course. What’s great is that it’s signs like this that tell us that mobile video is here to stay, and like the phones themselves, will continue to awe and amaze us year after year as improvements are made.

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