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Movie Festival to Focus on Short, Very Small Films

July 08, 2006|James S. Granelli | Times Staff Writer

The Third Screen Film Festival offers something you've never seen before -- and if your eyes aren't so good, you may never see it at all.

That's because Third Screen is a sort of Sundance for the cellphone set, a competition among short films designed for viewing on the tiny screens of handsets and other portable media devices.

Film school Columbia College Chicago, with money from sponsors MobiTV and MTV, is putting on the first of what it hopes will be an annual competition for filmmakers producing original clips that run less than eight minutes and are optimized for squint-inducing portables.

The festival derives its name from the notion pushed by mobile device makers that people can carry a third screen -- after their TV set and computer monitor -- around with them. The clips can be watched only on a pay service offered by MobiTV, an Emeryville, Calif., company that beams shows, sporting events and news to phones over 35 channels.

"We've been championing the short-form film since 1996, so this is a great opportunity for us," said Jon Nash, chief executive of MobiTV's Nano channel, which will broadcast the final four rounds of competition.

Cellphone carriers such as Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless have been looking for ways to boost revenue. But studies indicate that most Americans just want to use their mobile phones to talk. The U.S. market has been slow to adopt all the various cellphone functions, including streaming videos.

"What you see is people actually treating mobile content as a medium unto itself," said industry analyst Charles Golvin at Forrester Research Inc. "Yeah, the networks are slow and screens are small, but you use that to your advantage. So it may seem funny now, but it's heading in the right direction because people are beginning to think of cellphones as a stand-alone media."

Third Screen judges -- including former "America's Funniest Home Videos" host Bob Saget -- will watch the entries mainly on cellphones after the field is winnowed down by Columbia students to 300 from an expected 3,000 entries. Over four rounds starting July 19, MobiTV subscribers can vote for their favorite with their phones.

Two sets of winners in various categories, one picked by judges and one by the public, will be shown on what's still the first screen for most people -- TV, although only on demand through Comcast Corp. systems.

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