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30-Second Videos Tell Funny, Compelling Stories

Call it a sign of the times, but the lowly cell phone, once just a primary communications device, has become an artistic medium for growing numbers of budding filmmakers. That was evident at the second annual Cellflix Film Festival, held recently at New York's Ithaca College, where nearly 100 very short videos (shot entirely with cell phone cameras) competed for top honors. What the videos lack in length and image quality, they make up for in creative and compelling storytelling.

When radio and TV major Zack Wilson decided to participate in his college's film festival, he chose a simple story based on his own personal experience.

"I was in a hospital when I was in Australia," he says. "I got to know an elderly man across from me in the ward. He was in his 70s. He had his lung removed from cancer. He was two days out of the operation and he was running around talking, full of life. And I was just sitting there miserably. I realized maybe I should put things in perspective."

The experience inspired Wilson to shoot a film titled Assisted Living. "It's pretty much examining the relationship between an elderly patient in a nursing home and her nurse," he says. "The main theme I was trying to get across is just live your life in the best way you can and in the way you want to. So when you look back at it, you're satisfied."

Wilson told his story in just 30 seconds, using his cell phone camera. It was challenging, he says, but rewarding. Zack Wilson received the Festival Judge's $5000 award.

A similar prize went to Billy Feldman, a junior majoring in filmmaking at Ithaca. Feldman's comic video, film, Shellfish, won the festival's Audience Award.

"The inspiration comes from my girlfriend," he says. "There are times where our relationship is not perfect because I'm selfish." Feldman says he pictures his selfishness as a lobster, a sort of play on words: "I'm sorry honey. I'm shellfish."

Feldman says it took him 10 minutes to shoot his visual material. Then he cut it into a 30-second film. "It's just a reminder that every second counts, even every half a second counts," he says.

"It is very clear that these students are no longer dramatically challenged by the notion of having to produce something that's 30 seconds long," says Dianne Lynch, Dean of Ithaca's Park School of Communications.

Lynch says the whole point of the festival is to teach young filmmakers how to tell a complete story that's emotionally engaging and compelling in a very short period of time. "A student who comes out of any good communication, film, TV, media school needs to be able to say, here is the story," she says. "Whether it's about a shellfish or an aging parent or grandparent, what's the best way to tell the story? And the range of possibilities is enormous now."

Lynch notes that these days almost anyone can get a large audience for their film. "If you go to YouTube (.com, on the Internet), the films that are drawing literally millions of viewers are not about the quality of each image or the quality of technical production. They are about the story."

Dean Lynch says the CellFlix Film Festival is gaining popularity because it speaks to the younger generation of filmmakers in their language. It gives them the opportunity to be creative with devices that they hold in their hands and use a hundred times a day. And it lets them use that technology to make the world laugh, or cry, or simply, to understand.