Redford dials up new distrib'n

Plugs cell phone as venue for short films like 'Porno'

Robert Redford on Wednesday hailed the phone as a medium that could revive the short-film genre despite current low-viewing figures.

Appearing at the Mobile World Congress along with Italian filmmaker Isabella Rossellini — who unveiled her Sundance Channel-backed short, "Green Porno" — Redford said, "I'm obviously here because I'm excited by the new opportunities. Suddenly, there was a venue for short films."

Redford, Rossellini and others were among many panelists at the Mobile Backstage track of the conference, sponsored by Nielsen, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

They wrestled with questions of how to get people to start watching mobile film and video and how to make a viable business out of it.

Although music services are catching on, video usage remains low in Western Europe and the U.S. because of poor user experiences and confusing and high pricing.

Jeff Herrmann, vp at Nielsen Mobile, kicked off the day's discussions with an analysis of mobile content usage that noted poor subscriber retention for mobile video, with a U.S. average of just 2.5 months. He called on advertisers to support the medium in hopes of a dual revenue stream fueling more quality programming.

Noting that last year was "experimental" when Redford's Sundance Institute funded five short mobile film projects for the Mobile World Congress (then called 3GSM), Redford said that with "Porno," "We've taken it to the next level."

Redford said his passion for short films started in childhood, when he would watch shorts at theaters in Los Angeles. "I loved them as a kid," he said.

Many of the panelists agreed that the lack of funding for mobile shorts remains a barrier, as neither cellular carrier, broadcasters nor others are jumping in with cash.

"That's my big question," said Jody Shapiro, who co-directed "Porno" with Rossellini. "Where's it going to come from?"

Redford agreed.

"The question is, who's going to be brave enough to support the innovators?" Redford said. He pointed out that funding also has to include a fair share for writers, whom he praised for their long holdout in the strike. "Most of the time over the years, they've gotten the short end of the stick. By going on this long, you have to have a lot of courage or be crazy."

He praised outlets like YouTube for their "democratizing" effect but cautioned against a possible decline in quality. "You have a lot of junk," he said.

Asked if he truly believes the mobile phone will be a serious venue for short films, Redford acknowledged that "nobody knows what's going to happen," but said, "I believe there is a future."

In a separate panel, Rossellini showed clips from "Porno," a series of informative shorts that depict the sex life of insects. Rossellini dresses up as various bugs and comically delivers facts about them.

In one installment, as a male mosquito, she tells viewers that mosquitos see 200 times better than humans, beat their wings 200 times a second and "have sex several times a day, any opportunity, any female."

Redford told several anecdotes about a rascally past that included sneaking into movie theaters as a kid, dropping out of college and traveling to Majorca, Spain, to paint as a young man. He also recounted how in the early 1970s he attempted to distribute non-mainstream films to college campuses. "There was a radical vibe you could capitalize on," he said.

The initiative failed within weeks, because as Redford recalled, college kids preferred mainstream cinema like "Doctor Zhivago."

He said he hopes that his latest radical distribution medium, the cell phone, will last a little longer.

Another headliner at the Mobile Backstage event, of the Black Eyed Peas, said earlier that he doesn't watch videos on a cell phone — even though he makes them. "I'd rather listen to the songs; I'm on the go," he said.

In the day's most humorous reality check, David Lynch appeared sardonically in a YouTube clip with a damning indictment of mobile films. "If you play the movie on a telephone, you'll never in a trillion years experience the film," he deadpans. "It's such a sadness that you think you're experiencing a film on your fucking telephone. Get real."