Feature Film shot on Cell Phone, World’s First

Reprinted from a C|Net news release:

Eight cell phones, $160,000 and a good idea–could this be the future of filmmaking?

South African director Aryan Kaganof thinks so. And to prove it, he made "SMS Sugar Man,"

which is billed as the world’s first feature film shot entirely on mobile phones.

SMS Sugar Man was filmed with eight phone cameras over 11 days with three main characters for less

than 1 million rand ($164,100). As well as traditional cinema screenings, the film will be beamed to

cell phones in 30 three-minute episodes over the course of a month.

Kaganof says the tale of a pimp and two high-class prostitutes cruising around Johannesburg on

Christmas Eve is blazing a trail for a new, democratic approach to film that will slash the cost of

both making and viewing movies.

"I thought cinema in South Africa wasn’t the appropriate medium to represent who we are…it’s

a mostly white phenomenon. Then it struck me that a medium that Africans love more than any other is

the cell phone," he told Reuters.

Kaganof–who ironically bought his first cell phone last year to make the film–dismissed concerns

over quality and said the footage looked "fabulous" when blown up to the standard 35mm

feature-film size.

While films made in or about Africa are grabbing the limelight outside the world’s poorest

continent, small audiences at home–where most people cannot afford a night out at the cinema–make it

tough for filmmakers to break even.

Finding a low-budget model like in Nigeria, where the homegrown "Nollywood" industry is

hugely popular, is the only way of ensuring a future for South African film, Kaganof said.

"SMS Sugar Man," which is due to premiere around May, cost just a fraction of the 6

million rand that many low-budget local films cost. By comparison, Hollywood pictures typically cost

$40 million to $50 million and often exceed $100 million to produce.

"We wanted to make a radically low-budget film to show that anyone can do this," said

producer Michelle Wheatley. "There are a lot of people in Africa who want to make films and can’t

afford it.”

The cheap technology used to shoot SMS Sugar Man means the cameras are always rolling, making for a

fresher, more dynamic and fluid movie, with room to experiment.

"We just had a bunch of mobiles, and we let it run," Wheatley said. "That allowed

the actresses to explore the story and to improvise, to try stuff out that they wouldn’t have done if

they’d had a camera pointing in their faces."

One problem is that film fans hoping to watch SMS Sugar Man on their phones will need an up-to-date

camera-equipped handset, and while cell phone use has exploded across the continent, only a rich

minority have the latest gadgets.

With all the talk of empowering Africa, it is surprising that none of the three main characters,

including Kaganof, who also acts in the film, is black.

But Kaganof argues that "we are past all that," despite the deep divisions in South Africa 12 years

after the end of apartheid. He says the technology behind SMS Sugar Man gives Africa a chance to stop

copying the West and to set its own agenda.

"What we are doing is exciting, it’s innovative, and we are pressing the buttons that the world

will follow. It is an African film," he said.

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