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in Filmmaking
on Apr 28, 2007

If you’ve picked up our Spring issue you may have read the sidebar in our “Option Overload” Line Item (“Cell Capture”) where Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch describes how he made his latest film Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad In Afghanistan with a cell phone. Which as far as we know is a first.

It goes without saying that this is a shooting format that’s probably a decade before its time (at the least), but after seeing the film at the Tribeca Film Festival (it made its World Premiere at Rotterdam) the other day, this extremely experimental film running 70 minutes long with almost no dialogue is one of the most creative things I’ve seen done with cinema in quite some time.

Frisch plays a troubled Dutch soldier living in Amsterdam who is a prisoner in his own mind as the war has scared him to the point where it’s a struggle just to leave his apartment. Using a Sharp 903 cell phone with a 3.2 megapixel camera, Frisch records what he sees from his second-floor balcony: kids roughhousing, construction workers, a drunk screaming in the middle of the night. To the viewer it may not be much, but for the Frisch character it brings horrible flashbacks to when he was on the frontlines.

Now I’ll be honest, it’s quite a challenge to watch the film. If there isn’t enough natural light the shots are hard to see and you are forced to use your imagination to understand what’s going on. But when the light is just right and the camera phone is steady, Frisch is able to accomplish some beautiful images. One that sticks out in my mind is when he’s walking outside and stops to stare at a steam pipe. Ever so slightly Frisch moves the phone towards the sky and suddenly the steam turns into a helicopter. We learn quickly that the camera (his mind) can flashback to the war at any moment.

Before going into the screening I talked to Frisch, who said using the cell phone “Is the only way this film could have been made.” And after seeing it I agree. The camera phone gave Frisch the freedom that no mini-DV can. Walking through markets, busy sidewalks or while driving, he is able to capture reality without ever drawing attention to himself (do you ever think twice when you see someone pointing a camera phone?).

Is this the future of filmmaking? Not the near future. I believe most people will find Why Didn’t Anybody… very difficult to watch, but with technology only getting better and more advanced, this film’s premise will blaze a trail for new ideas and new stories that will be molded and improved through Internet-obsessed teens and find its way back to the big screen later down the road. Get ready.

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