SmartFone Flick Fest 2020

Image Still from Distant Friends by Jill Kingston and Molly Haddon

Australia’s international smartphone short film festival is back in 2020 to show off some of the best amateur and professional films shot with just the technology of a smartphone or tablet. All entries are competing for the opportunity to have their films screened in cinema and for prize packs totalling over $40,000.

The filmmakers submit across four different categories including feature-length films, short films, children’s films for filmmakers under 16, and the new ISO category for films under 3 minutes shot during COVID-19 lockdowns. For the first time ever SF3 is screening films live in cinema and also online for audiences to view wherever they are. The festival program also includes panel discussions and masterclasses hosted online by film directors such as Phillip Noyce.

In the ISO short film category, filmmakers from all over the world share their experiences in their local lockdown conditions, many focusing on the very unusual circumstances of the year. Love in the Time of Covid by Chanika Desilva (Sydney, Australia), Covid Cabin Fever: Working From Home with Mum by Susie Sparkes and Amy Sparkes (Melbourne, Australia), and Quarantine Now by Jackie May (Los Angeles, United States) find the humour in quarantine from starting a love affair with toilet paper to slowly losing all sense of propriety. Some even get quite quirky, exploring the loopiness induced by isolation and pure boredom; SPALDING by Brooke Ryan (Sydney, Australia) sees a woman construct a romance with a basketball, Touch/Screen by Talin Agon (Sydney, Australia) explores how social isolation will impact on our future physical interactions, especially while dating, and Garden Lover’s Club by Brienna Collins (Sydney, Australia) is more of an interpretive dance, expressing two housemates’ love for their garden.

Many films in this category took a more sombre approach to discussions of isolation, grief, and the immense strain the pandemic has had on people and communities. Lament by Kimberley Wells (Australia/Canada) was a very personal account of being at a great distance from loved ones during lockdown while Where Are We by Alexander Campbell (London’s, United Kingdom) uses dance as the mode of responding to the trying times. Some films struggled to capture the enormity of a global phenomenon and came across more like government public service announcements hoping to rally morale like An Event by David Doyle (Ireland) or Out of Our Windows by Prakash Gandhi Natarajan (Austin, United States). But it’s clear these films are striving to find connection and mutual sentiment across the countless experiences of 2020, which will inevitability lead to some generality.

Stand outs from these 44 films tended to use the circumstances of lockdown more as a backdrop than the main focus like two films from Charles Jaeger (Paris, France) which both incorporated animation for added whimsy and creativity; Carmen at the Parlor Opera House was a nod to the world of live performance that we’re all still missing and Expedition Under My Bed told a simple story of finding a missing sock. The Garden by Lauren Hester (Melbourne, Australia) turned to silent film techniques for a spooky story while Seance by Tel Benjamin, Michael Wood, and David Burrowes (Sydney, Australia) managed to find the humour in summoning unspeakable things. Two other particularly clever entries were Dawn Heist by Neil Walshe (Sydney, Australia) where two toddlers pull off a Mothers’ Day surprise and Pretty by Marisa Riley (New York, United States) about a woman whose mirror begins communicating.

After watching all of the submitted films, SF3 chooses the top 16 for the SF3 Gala Finals Official Selection Screening and which will compete for a range of prizes including the People’s Choice Award. Entries from Australia, Bulgaria, Italy, Russia, United States, France, Nigeria, and El Salvador took a range of subjects as their inspirations with a surprising recurring theme of organised crime: Hen’s Night by Annabel Harte and Chloe Brisk (Australia) is about a woman uncovering her fiancé’s drug ring, Hollow Hands by Sean Hall (Australia) is also about the end of a man’s smuggling days, and the Cleanup by Ian Leer (United States) hints towards a sinister murder operation. Others explore an interesting array of genres including comedy in The Thirty Second Man by Steven McGrath (Australia) about a fading commercial actor, psychological horror in Andrey Bezrodnykh’s (Russia) Beside Myself about a couple’s hallucinations after the death of their son, and more artistic aesthetics in Prelude to Stars and Scars by Yi Zhou (United States).

The stand-outs from the Official Selection all incorporated an element of documentary filmmaking into their pieces from the compelling Closed for Christmas by Michele Jedlicka (Australia) about Pat and Geoff, two ex-greyhound racers who now run an animal refuge and pet boarding organisation in rural Australia to The Lost Village by Chukwukaelo Iyizoba (Nigeria) which paints a loving portrait of a struggling village in rural Nigeria. Beraat Gokkus’s (France) film the Lost Pen certainly had the most innovative approach to a documentary-esque project, using the narrative of a Syrian poet’s lost pen to capture life inside La Maison des Journalistes, a boarding house in Paris for journalists who have been exiled. The journalists play themselves and offer brief glimpses into their circumstances through the quasi-tour journey to find Karam’s lost pen.

As you can tell from this brief review, which didn’t even touch the children’s and feature film categories, SF3 offers a wealth of content to view and enjoy. There are some slick productions on offer but many also carry the charms of mere enthusiasm and a group of willing participants.

SmartFone Flick Fest is available to stream online from October 10th – 25th. For more information and to purchase stream tickets, please visit the SF3 website.

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