Austin Craig and a group of filmmakers have organized a festival accessible to anyone with a smartphone: the Pocket Film Festival. Over Sept. 1-5, the festival will feature documentaries and workshops, as well as submissions filmed on smartphones. Jason van Genderen, the Pocket Filmmaker, is coming from Australia to teach workshops. Provo city paid for his flight, and hope he'll make a film about the community. The organizers made the festival free to match the spirit of the event. Only one event isn't free—Craig and his wife, Beccy, filmed a documentary of their three months living on the web-based currency Bitcoin called Life on Bitcoin (tickets are $8, and yes, they accept Bitcoin) at the Covey Center for the Arts. See the schedule at PocketFilmFest.com
Why a festival based on smartphone films?
Having a Hollywood budget doesn't help you be more creative. My hope is to encourage people to refocus on the craft—focus on the storytelling, the character. Be creative with the tools they already have. My hope is this event levels the playing field, and lets the 20-year director of photography veteran compete using the same tools as the 15-year-old aspiring film maker. They're competing on the same level, because it's essentially a zero-budget iPhone film fest. We have an emphasis on youth media, we'll have workshops geared specifically to young people.
What about the quality of a smartphone-filmed movie?
It's not without its merit. My iPhone doesn't record the same kind of footage as a professional Hollywood camera. But you know what it is? Exceptionally better than anything that existed 10 years ago. And everyone has it. Smart phones we have are capable of shooting in ultra-high definition, capable of going places that larger cameras can't go; they're with you all the time.
Are you concerned films will be perceived as amateur and not taken seriously?
I'm a firm believer that the right constraints on a creative project are a good thing. They help drive the creative work forward. Where some people might see our festival and think, "Ah, that's kid stuff. You're using toy cameras, you're not doing anything serious." To them, I might say, "Maybe, but we're doing creative, original, inventive work that you wouldn't find at other festivals, and it's because of constraints, not in spite of them."
How stressful was living on Bitcoin for three months?
The real challenge was not necessarily living on Bitcoin—although that was challenging—but making a movie about it. It was our first time doing a feature-length documentary film.
How does Provo stack up, as far as businesses accepting Bitcoin?
We wanted to test the limits of Bitcoin—both literally and metaphorically. When we got comfortable in Provo, we went to New York City, Stockholm, Berlin and Singapore. I always thought the next place we were going was going to be better. There's no single geographical location that is stronger than others. When we got to New York two years ago, there were fewer businesses we could find accepting Bitcoin. In Provo, we'd been evangelizing it and got people to accept it. We chose the neighborhood we did in Berlin because it was notorious for having a lot of Bitcoin-accepting businesses. Sure enough, there were a couple of dozen—mostly because of one guy who loved Bitcoin and kept encouraging them to accept Bitcoin.