“My prediction is that a couple of years from now the fact a feature was shot on a phone will be totally unremarkable. When Blue Moon screened in Dublin the curator didn’t tell the audience until after the screening that it was made on iPhone – the audience was astounded.”

Championing film’s most democratic innovation, Australia’s dedicated Smartphone Film Festival has taken the leap from shorts to features. Having put out the call, SF3 are premiering Stefen Harris’ Blue Moon to an Australian audience which would not have been possible but for what’s now in all our pockets.

“I knew from the get go we were shooting iPhone – that’s what allowed us to green light the film,” said Stefen. “Not necessarily because the camera was cheap and accessible but because the iPhone gave us tremendous freedom – I was giving myself a green light to shoot a feature film in 30 hours over six nights.”

“All these limitations dictated the style of the film. The plan was to keep the camera constantly moving, using long takes up to 8 minutes in some cases. The time pressure meant the actors were under real duress and that translates into their characters on screen.  There was no stop start reset… Any other camera would have slowed us down to the point where we would not have completed the film.”  

Commencing at 4:20AM within a petrol station and concluding at 6AM, the first SF3 Best Feature winner reunites two men who have a tried, decades-old past

“Once the audience was along for the ride there was no opportunity to look away, no respite from the relentless,” said Stefen, who will soon be making the trip over from New Zealand with cast and crew. “There is a ticking clock device built into the story so the characters and audience know something has to happen at six o’clock.” 

“We’re totally thrilled to premiere Blue Moon at SF3…. our first screening to an Australian audience is particularly significant for us.” 

Hosting the inaugural SF3 Gala at the Chauvel in 2015, throughout each of the successive years the Festival, unique to Australia, has grown in scale, audience and reach. Achieving too a record number of entries at this new milestone, clocking in at over 200 this year and now over 1000 since the Festival started, SF3 has opened an uncommonly accessible avenue to filmmakers; local and international. With the smartphone advent dually attracting both seasoned filmmakers who want to experiment together with burgeoning Directors who can render ideas achievable with their new Galaxy, the Festival remains a unique networking opportunity and distinctively creative forum for filmmakers of wide-ranging experience.

Importantly, SF3 has also excelled in three major respects. Firstly, and this really shouldn’t be of note but here we are; the Festival has consistently highlighted the most deserving technicians and creative minds behind its crops of finalists.

In 2017, Ren Thackham’s Rearview deservedly garnered the bulk of SF3’s major awards with her stand-out short, as did Malwina Wodzicka with 2018’s no doubt best entry She Rose. Not all Film Festivals consistently reward the best addition to any year’s slate, a matter of familiar and ongoing frustration for fans and filmmakers alike. Winning at SF3 and moreover so for succeeding filmmakers so deserving of their plaudits is no minor matter for any up and coming creator.

Secondly, and to this point, SF3 has consistently achieved what any Festival should set out to do; providing a grounding for filmmakers to grow their career. Having served as a key breakthrough for creatives, Thackham, who this week was the only entrant to nab Jury and Audience Awards at the Short + Sweet Film Festival, too returned for the 2018 SF3 Finals and, amidst composing the SF3 2019 trailer, is now preparing for her first feature film.

Wodzicka, in 2018 a first-time Director, too returned to this year’s Finals and following the 2018 Gala has gone on to receive numerous accolades for She Rose at Festivals around the world.

Finally, SF3, an early Festival to recognise the soon to be much greater significance of Virtual Reality technology within the film industry, again returns to a now weekend of Festivities with the dedicated VR strand SF360. Preceding the Gala Awards this Sunday, the preceding Saturday will too showcase SF3 Kids, SF3’s Masterclass and Blue Moon.

“It was always going to be just a matter of time before we opened up our festival to include a smartphone feature film,” said SF3 co-Founder Alison Crew. “We thought, why don’t we just add it as a new category and put it out there and see what we get? We really didn’t know. If all else failed we could maybe do a retrospective screening of Tangerine.”

“As it turned out, we received 11 feature film entries! And to our surprise, they were all really good, We’d already made the decision to screen just one this year to test the water and demand. But having received so many great films, we’re considering growing the Festival next year to include more features. It may be that we bring back some of the other films that were entered this year, they really were that good. I definitely see smartphone features as where SF3 will grow into the future.”

“This is momentous for SF3,” said Festival co-Founder Angela Blake. “Since the beginning we knew we wanted to eventually screen a feature to complement our Gala and SF3 Kids. 5 years ago when we started, smartphone filmmaking was still relatively new, we were still convincing people that this could be done, that the films looked amazing.”

“We were blown away by the quality (of the feature entries). We wanted to screen them all! And they came from every corner of the world: Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Georgia, Italy, UK, and India. But just wait till you see Blue Moon, wowsers. It is shot on an iPhone 7+ but that just doesn’t matter anymore because the film is just so incredible. You forget it’s shot on a phone and instead are lost in the cinematography, the script, the actors and the world.

This year’s Gala Finals, acknowledging changes in the medium, have too adapted as smartphones have become both more adept and ubiquitous in film circles.

For the first year we extended our time limit from 6.5 minutes to 20 minutes, so that is a huge change for the audience,” said Angela. “We realised filmmakers are getting savvy on their phones and starting to make longer films… we have 15 films in our Official selection, ranging in time from a 1 minute French comedy about vegetables to a 18 minute Russian drama about the dangers of live streaming.”

Amid international entries there are numerous Australian Gala finalists including Colder; developed by local filmmaker and Kino Sydney regular Kenny Foo together with Kino Director Bryan Fisher.

“Many months of hard work by a small and dedicated group of friends have gone into this 13 minute short,” said Bryan. “This was the first film shot on a phone that all of us had worked on… it’s incredibly rewarding to have your hard work recognised by such a prestigious Festival. It’s both exciting and terrifying to see this film on the big screen in a full house (but mainly exciting).”

“We have some beautiful Aussie finalists including comedies about the selfie culture among parents, a horror film set in the suburbs of Sydney, two inspirational tales, a Jewish wedding gone wrong and so much more,” said Angela. “It’s always interesting to see the issues of the world reflected in the stories of films we get. A change this year is that we have seen a lot of films entered telling tales of the dangers of living your life on line and live streaming your life via social media.”

With prizes worth in excess of $40,000 up for the taking, SF3 will take place at Event Cinemas George Street from September 14-15.

Blue Moon screens as part of SF3 and will screen as part of the Sydney Indie Film Festival on October 26

on Falkenscreen