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Visual Anthropology

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China Art by Phone: Mobile Movies

Michael Fitzhenry

To cite this article: Michael Fitzhenry (2008) China Art by Phone: Mobile Movies, Visual
Anthropology, 21:3, 202-216, DOI: 10.1080/08949460701857602

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Published online: 21 May 2008.

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ISSN: 0894-9468 print=1545-5920 online
DOI: 10.1080/08949460701857602

China Art by Phone: Mobile Movies

Michael Fitzhenry

Jia ZhangKes film Platform gives crystalline shape to a generation in a group of

youth gathered around a tape-recorder in Fenyang city. The tape itself had come
from Guangzhou and before that, presumably, from across the border with Hong
Kong. Perhaps a Cantonese filtering, a local expression of Western and brand-name
product that, viewed positively, marks the largest and most sweeping educational
drive in Chinas history, the distribution and assimilation of fashion, DVDs, CDs,
video, and design. This article seeks to know empirically the conditions that lay
the groundwork for this educational drive, focusing on social transformation and
the impact of digital technologies on theory, approach, practice, consumption.
Clearly, mobility is important in this process of social transformation. Platform gives
us images of the mobility of people, things, and ideas. This article also looks at the
effects of the transport of people, things, and ideas and explores the cultural dimen-
sions of social transformation. The article asks: What is mobility for artists and
media producers? What are the urbanistic interconnections that emerge from an
engagement with public space? These questions are explored around the social
and cultural terrain of the mobile phone.
The article considers the virtual public space of the mobile telephone now open-
ing to cultural producers and consumers. In what way does the mobile telephone, as
an instrument for dialogue, a marketing device, and a promotional tool, affect our
perception of public space? This article examines several initiatives that bring the
mobile phone and cultural production together. One of these is titled Focus: This
Moment, a program of eight short films by eight contemporary Chinese film direc-
tors made for mobile phone and Internet distribution. Another is Connect to Art,
initiated by Nokia in September 2004 in Helsinki, continued in Monaco in December
2004, and then furthered again in Shanghai in May 2006 with the unveiling of four
works by Chinese contemporary artists: Ai Weiwei, Yang Fudong, Zhang Peili, and
Feng Mengbo. The article considers how mobile phone movies modify and enrich
our understanding of cinema. This is thus an enquiry into the impact of digital tech-
nology on the mature film industry. Furthermore, the article asks how public space
is enfolded in multiple contextual discourses that create the mobility and interface of
the mobile phone.


The idea that short films can be watched on various types of surface is not new as
a concept, but the mobile phone as a platform for film viewing itself is new, as is

MICHAEL FITZHENRY is an associate professor in cinema and television at United International

College, Zhuhai, China. He holds a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from the University of Sydney.

Mobile Movies 203

the possibility for the phone to store and share large and different types of data
files and present them on the 200  200 screen as moving image and sound. Exper-
imentation concerning screening practices was particularly prevalent in the
1970s, when many of the current ideas concerning the variety of the moving
image could find lively expression in the experimental film and video move-
ments in Japan, Europe, and North America. A major point of difference between
these earlier experimentations and mobile phone as screen, however, concerns
the exhibition and reception contexts. Early experiments, including those of the
1970s, were mostly about modifying an amphitheater, interrupting the projection
of celluloid film, which included examining and reinterpreting the celluloid base,
or creatively using satellite transmission to provide differing exhibition and recep-
tion contexts for a mass audience. With the coming of video in the later 1960s, and
affordable home videotape players, compact disk (CD), and digital video disk
(DVD) later from the 1980s, moving image and sound have moved steadily into
environments other than the cinematheque (theater building) and the projection
of celluloid, particularly the art museum and the home. Mobile telephone,
however, adds another dimension to the exhibition context for the moving image
that concerns a personalized viewing experience, mobility, and interface.
Where classical theories of film have elaborated the illusory qualities of the
moving image and the masking of the cinematic apparatus, this article finds that
the mobile telephone creates its off-screen spaces differently. Film viewed on a
mobile phone cannot escape the centrality of the device. The weight and feel of
the mobile phoneknown to German speakers as the handy and to Chinese
speakers as the shoj (literally translated as hand machine)is as much a part
of the viewing experience as the visionary qualities of the image. This is to say
that viewing the moving image on a mobile phone is as much a tactile experience
as it is an audio and visual one. Furthermore, in adding mobility to the mix of
viewing experiences, a whole new behavioral context that concerns the enfolding
of virtual and actual space is opening to contemporary image culture. This raises
many interesting questions regarding our visions of cinemaWhat new visions
will we witness? What will we look for? Equally, the idea of audience and image
culture has undergone radical transformation.
It seems that within the cultural map of art, popular culture, architecture,
design, fashion, and film it is possible to discover new and interesting forms
and expressions of image culture. It is almost as if one can find ones own path
through the flow of a media-saturated society. The viewer, who is not quite a
consumer led to the passive consumption of images, navigates a path for him-
or herself within this saturation. This is a situation, it seems, that lends itself well
to the varied contexts offered by the mobile phone as an interface to virtual and
actual spaces governed by a regime of mobility.


On the television or computer screen film-on-video is small, not just in terms of
image size, but also in its relation to me as a viewer. I do not meet it, I order it
into existence, as Alexander Horwath put it. Viewing this small image and the
204 M. Fitzhenry

small experience it offers has its analogy, according to Kent Jones, in listening to
music [Horwath and Jones 2003]. The analogy is drawn as each recording for the
listener is its own sonic event, of timbre of voice, texture of sound, and idiosyn-
crasy in the performance [idem]. The small experience of film-on-video can be
thought of in terms equivalent to a compositional event, which enables the
viewer to pick up the audiovisual equivalents to timbre, texture, and idiosyn-
crasy and reside in those moments of recognition. To take the analogy of listen-
ing to music further, the small experience of film-on-video as compositional
event meets the viewers behavioral context anywhere he or she may be.
Certainly, this is a behavioral context that is in the mood for a movie, or the viewer
would not be watching on the box. But the experience of watching is different
from that of the classical cinema screen of the movie theater, a standard
projection environment that has found its contemporary life in the multiplex.
For the most part the experience of film-on-video is, as Horwath and Jones
described it, the home entertainment universe of DVDs viewed on television
and computer screen, and which also replicate in aircraft, long-distance buses,
and automobiles.1 In this home entertainment universe, the feature film fills
the screen and runs its reasonably standard feature length. Distinctions between
the kind of experiences offered by viewing environments of the classical
cinema screen of the multiplex theater and those environments suitable to host
a feature DVD are significant, as Horwath and Jones indicated. The implications
for a community of spectators offered by DVD and television (cable
programmed) film viewing are also highly significant, as Thierry Jousse has
interestingly noted [2006]. This article is also interested in these implications
what could be called the impact of the digital era. As Horwath, Jones, and Jousse
described it, film-on-video is about a changed context for cinematic image
viewing, one that finds its description in the move from the multiplex to the
home. Very recently, however, many more contexts have opened to the viewing
experience and we witness a renewal of cinematic forms that had all but disap-
peared from film exhibition. To a large degree, this renewal is in the area of the
short film and video.
Short film seemed to nearly disappear from cinema programming in the mid-
dle 1970s, when the first multiplexes and entertainment centers became the norm
for film exhibition in suburbia and later moved to large entertainment complexes
in central city locations. The short film and video, however, are appearing in
large numbers and various formats now with renewed vigor, and in many cases
the films and videos are shorter than ever, many around three minutes in length.
What is the platform for renewed vigor? What are the implications for film? The
answer to these questions reveals the complexity of technological change in a
mature industry.
Focus: This Moment, a project realized by the Beijing-based digital media
company, Zonbo Media, is a series of eight films each about three minutes in
length, made by important members of the emerging sixth generation of Beijing
Film Academy-trained filmmakers. The program is an omnibus of short films
produced by Tian ZhuangZhuang and made by eight contemporary directors.
It included Out In There by Jia ZhangKe, Quiet Moment by Wang XiaoShuai,
Watermelon by Meng JingHui, and Money Cant Buy My Willingness by Liu Hao.
Mobile Movies 205

From the female directors were Dream by Sun XiaoRu, Bride by Jiang IiFen, Xiaoxiao
Hatches Eggs by Li Hong, and Let Me Show You Some Tricks by Xiao Jian. These are
filmmakers better known for the long formthe feature filmbut they are also
well-known film experimenters and fiercely independent. There is no clear model,
however, that can take account of the competing and varied stakeholders in the
creation of a platform for the very short film. Yet mobile phone companies such
as Nokia and Siemens, carriers such as China Unicom, and Internet service com-
panies such as 21 cn are actively courting young and emerging filmmakers, includ-
ing independent filmmakers, for short film and video suitable as content for their
The promotion of this idea in China is rapidly taking hold with discussions in
Nanjing at the Third China Independent Film Festival of 2006, suggesting a career
path into filmmaking by providing such content. The Beijing Film Academy,
together with New Cinema magazine, was reported in the media in April 2006
[China Daily] to have commissioned 10 scenarios from professionals and amateurs
alike to be shot in digital format for mobile phone distribution. Shanxi province
hosted Chinas first mobile phone film festival in October 2006, and there followed
a few weeks later news that the Georges Pompidou Centre was hosting a similar
event in France. Short film and video are booming in terms of production and also
are enjoying many exhibition opportunities that had disappeared, internationally,
with the multiplex programming of the 1970s and onward.
The resurgence of the short film in terms of world cinema has been set up, for
the most part, by public television, in programs such as the innovative Eat
Carpet, SBS (Australia); by Channel 4 (U.K.) and Athene 2 (France); by college
networks in East Asia and the United States; and, of course, by film festivals, both
local and specialized, such as the Hong Kong Short Film and Video Awards, the
Asiana International Short Film and Video Festival, and global touring festivals
of the audiovisual such as Resfest.2
Beyond public broadcast channels, college networks, and festivals, which
provide an event structure for the short film and videoa one-off experience
with its own starsthere are newer exhibition opportunities that are most
suited to the short cinematic form realized as digital video. One of these of
course is the art museum and the other is the development of new enterprises
such as the digital media company, which produce, distribute, and market
digital content for television, Internet, and now mobile phone. The content
produced by these concerns varies from a staple of television dramas in serial
form, to promotional and music videos, video games, and short films suited to
mobile viewing. The following discussion, therefore, considers in more detail
the development of digital moving-image content, and the cultural context
for such content in Chinas DV era.

The terrain of the independent filmmaker in China is interesting. To a large
extent it relates specifically to film exhibition and the privilege of watching: this
is what Jia ZhangKe referred to as internal screening, first introduced by
206 M. Fitzhenry

Madame Mao (Jiang Qing, who was a former Shanghai movie star of the 1940s).
Private screening parties of films banned from general exhibition were extended
to include in their audience large groups of the intelligentsia by the 1980s; but it
was not until the 1990s, when video piracy and cheap technological products
(first CD players, then DVD players) became readily available and affordable,
that internal screening started to mark the biggest educational drive in Chinese
history, the importation and circulation of Western and Asian media products.
Digital video and new exhibition formats and venues (particularly the Internet)
created the conditions for a niche independent audience in China. Film pro-
duction entered the dynamic DV era and found low-cost avenues to explore
what had been marginal genres in Chinese film production history, documentary
and experimental film, and the possibility to pursue hybrid genre structures that
incorporated these two missing genre links in Chinese film history. If the mobile
phone films hold any historical significance, it seems to me that in terms of world
cinema they join a family of films pioneered by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter,
and others who brought experimental short film to advertising and promotional
purposes. Eggeling and Richters collaboration Horizontal-Vertical Orchestra
(made between 1915 and 1921) is an example of a great film that exists on the per-
iphery of film production, but nevertheless is highly significant to the history and
development of film animation, the art film, and documentary.
Jia ZhangKe, Zhang Yuan, Wang XiaoShuai, He Jianjin, Lou Ye, and others are
representative of this new, sixth, DV era generation of Beijing Film Academy-
trained filmmakers. Their mantra: China is in rapid development, everything
happens fast. To us, the key is to hold tight to our cameras, hold tight to our
power [Jia 2005]. Whereas previously success at an international film festival
would launch a career, the experience of the sixth generation has been different.
World acclaim has not penetrated the popular imagination. Sun WeiChuan is not
alone in arguing that sending a film out to an international festival is an optimis-
tic idea in the current climate, where international film festivals are little known
by a domestic audience and make little impact to carry a career into commercial
filmmaking, if that indeed is what is desired. Both places and funds are limited
for those wishing to exhibit their first films.
Sun WeiChuan suggests that syndicating university campuses to exhibit inde-
pendent film is one way out of the financial demise of independent film in China.
Such networks already exist in China, as they do in the United States and
elsewhere. They have been here for a long time in Beijing, with Beijing Normal
University, for example, which has run an independent film festival for the last
12 years. Sun WeiChuan proposes that this model can be adopted by other cities.
This is a good idea, as it extends a varied film culture. Daniel Myrick and
Ecluardo Sanchezs The Blair Witch Project [1999] inspired this model of college
circuit distribution, as do other independent American products, particularly
popular music. Perhaps Sun WeiChuans audience in Nanjing at the Third China
Independent Film Festival, which is where this idea was recently aired, are
young filmmakers looking for a first film screening. A campus circuit is an
obvious place for this kind of enterprise. Perhaps, however, it is much more
advantageous to examine the relationship between the international festival
circuit and a domestic audience.
Mobile Movies 207

There are alternatives that work with but modify existing structures. Southern
Metropolitan Daily, a member of the Southern Daily Newspaper Group, together
with 21 cn, a telecom, and the Guangdong Museum of Art in late 2005 organized
a film festival in Guangzhou entitled Ray of the Avant-Garde. They present an
interesting model, as the media group enlisted the help of Beijing-based Cui Qiao
to represent the Berlin International Film Festival (BIFF) and select films for
exhibition. QingLiang explained that the choice of name for the exhibition was
difficult, but that independent conjures images of low-budget and experi-
mental work and would not attract a large audience; thus, avant-garde was
the preferred choice for films by well-known sixth generation directors such as
Zhang Yuan (they screened Mama as their first film).
QingLiang also related that Chinese films have historically done well at the
BIFF, and that this was the reason to select films in conjunction with them. Send-
ing films out to a festival to return to domestic recognition seemed to have
worked well for the preceding fifth generation of Film Academy-trained direc-
tors, but had not met the current generation of filmmakers expectations and
was unlikely to serve as a future model for a career in filmmaking. Ray of the
Avant-Garde preserves the benefits that international exposure gives to a film
and a filmmaker, and additionally provides a local audience with a festival
release. The ZhongHua Cinema in Guangzhou screened the selected films to a
sell-out audience. Apparently it was difficult to find a sponsor, but Southern
Metropolitan offered free tickets by SMS and had given all their tickets away by
9 am. The cinema sold block tickets for the whole event, which ran over four
months, and these also sold out early in the season. Together with the cinema
screening, 21 cn. hosted the films as video-on-demand over IP. The success of this
model can be seen where the telecom recently advised its subscribers in mid-2006
that it was cooperating with a Hong Kong-based media company and planning
an independent film festival via the Internet.
These developments suggest that telecommunication and media companies are
well satisfied with the response they received from Ray of the Avant-Garde.
Southern Metropolitan was planning to expand its festival in 2006 to incorporate
five Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chengdu. They
were negotiating with more and more cinemas to join as screening venues.
QingLiang commented that the audiences who attended the screenings at the
ZhongHua Cinema were varied, ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old, not only
college students but also white-collar workers. This was quite unexpected. It can
be explained partly by the fact that the Southern Metropolitan Daily has the biggest
market share in the retail news market and is the second-largest-circulation news-
paper in Guangzhou. This means it has a large, varied, and loyal readership and is
an ideal marketing platform for the film festival and its Internet companion.3
A further suggestion by Sun WeiChuan in Nanjing in 2006 was also interesting:
namely, to take advantage of opportunities to provide content to mobile tele-
phone networks. The impact is equally on questions relating to the role of digital
media in shaping our visions of cinema and on independent film. Here too, how-
ever, the film festivals have begun offering programs: the Hong Kong Short Film
and Video Awards now run programs of very short film and video for this
market; the 2006 program, Focus: This Moment, being distributed by Zhonbo
208 M. Fitzhenry

Media Group [Figure 1]. Asiana Airlines, a Korean carrier, offered the program
as part of its short film festival before this, and exhibited a selection of these films
in flight and asked the passengers to vote for their favorite. Clearly, the exhibition
context for the moving image is diversifying and finding newer and potentially
lucrative markets.
In many respects discussion of short film and video is applicable to the
ongoing debate about digital cinema. The argument concerning digital cinema
has been carried by the mainstream of multiplex owners and Hollywood moguls
and by professional bodies of engineers. For the most part, this concerns a wholly
digital context of production, distribution, and exhibition for the feature film.
A host of recent studies have asked the question of why digital cinema in such
a context is slow in coming, and tell us convincingly of problems concerning
standards, costs, and competing vested interests. The argument about standards,
for example, relates to formatting and encoding, and with two competing projec-
tion systems developed by JVC (D-ILA based projectors) and Texas Instruments
(DLP based projectors), and resolution2k or 4k; cost savings in production ver-
sus expense in refitting theaters and existing programming strategies versus new
content for theater chains.4 Rather than think of a wholly digital context for
cinema, which at present is a kind of futurology, short film and video is an

Figure 1 Focus: This Moment production still from Watermelon by Meng JingHui. Courtesy
Hong Kong short film and video awards.
Mobile Movies 209

actually occurring digital context for a cinematic form, albeit a very new one. The
situation, then, is analogous to the introduction of digital sound to the film pro-
duction process in that it is a wholly digital environment within the film industry.
The adoption of digital technology in sound recording was achieved relatively
smoothly, but itself can be seen as the end point of a process started in 1975 with
the introduction of Dolby stereo and multitrack recording (4 track). Adding more
tracks and improvements to theater speaker configurations (but particularly the
utilization of surround sound) in the 1980s led directly to a new type of cinematic
experience where the soundtracks themselves could create environmental
effectsthe spatialization of sound elements in particular parts of the theater
building. A very early example of this creative use of the theater space as a sound
environment was Star Wars, released in 1978. Digital sound systems follow this
same trajectory but offer significant improvements in all levels of the process,
from production to exhibition. Whatever initial resistance there was to digital
sound was overcome in generation changes and computer-literate professionals.
Initially also there was some discussion of sound quality, as indeed there is with
video and computer-generated imagery, some preferring a more modulated,
creamier sound (and granular image) while others noting no significant differ-
ences. If a digital revolution really is set to come to cinema, it is safe to say that it
has already occurred in the area of cinematic sound.
Perhaps this same predictive assertion can be applied to the mobile movie. The
current interest in China, as elsewhere, concerns additional revenue sources that
can fund independent and small-budget production as well as fostering a more
varied film culture within China. Official statistics show that less than a third of
Chinas annual 200-plus feature films ever make it to cinema screens, with most
simply sold to movie channels of cable=television stations or to DVD distributors.
The mobile phone offers an alternative channel for movie releases. The Beijing
Film Academy and New Cinema initiative mentioned previously is an example
of a completely digital context. The movies will be shot with digital, high-defi-
nition video cameras and put onto mobile phones with technical support from
the telecom service provider Nokia.
Zonbo Medias Focus: This Moment has a similar digital trajectory: it was first
released wholly digitally to mobile phone on China Unicorns network and also to
Internet at various video-on-demand pay sites, and then was released for film
festival competition as a 35 mm print of the eight films. Xie Fei, a veteran film director,
likened the very short films to seconds-long TV commercials, stating that mobile
movies pose both a technical and artistic challenge to film directors who usually
shoot full-length films for the big screen [China Daily, April 2006]. Focus: This
Moment is an interesting test to examine how these challenges were met and, from
a critics perspective, to assess what was successful in the productions [Figure 1].
Jia ZhangKes contribution, presented as Story One, is about a separated
couple who reunite through telephone and fax messaging. Quiet Moment by
Wang XiaoShuai, however, is the film that succeeds in finding a form for the very
short film designed for the 2  2 in. mobile phone screen. The soundtrack,
designed by Zhang Yang, dominates to create narrative tension for a scene that
is otherwise occupied by an old man with his back to camera looking down into
off-screen space at the street below. Sounds include car engines revving, wheels
210 M. Fitzhenry

screeching, and a flamenco music track that adds tension and architectural form
to create a sense of place. The same soundtrack reappears in the next story, Xiao
Jians Let Me Show You Some Tricks, but to nothing like the same effect. Meng
JingHuis Watermelon [Figure 1] also features sound as a central element at the
mid-point of the film. The male lead ducks into an alcove along the side of a der-
elict and decaying building to relieve himself, but is interrupted by the sound of
whistling. He cranes his head out from behind the alcove to see a group of young
maternity nurses also craning out from the other alcoves of the building. This is a
great comic moment in the very short film where sound is used creatively as a
cultural mnemonic of young mothers, babysitters, and grandparents whistling
for their nursing charges to pee.
Focus: This Moment is a clever structure, with each film contributing a story,
a moment around a single event. Where this works well is to modify cinematic
expression. The cinema screen, viewed in retrospect of the mobile phone movie,
is predominantly about the frame. Perhaps Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo [1958]
presents the clearest of definitions of the cinema in its opening title sequence
as the female lead looks up, down, and to the sides in an otherwise empty space,
crammed in, it seems, by the cinema screen. Because of the brevity of the
moment filmmaker and sound designer create parallel narrative structures
complimentary to but independent of the image track.
Hitchcocks frame draws attention to the screen; Zhang Yans sound design,
however, has a different effect. Xie Feis comment, noted above, that mobile
movies pose an artistic challenge to film directors, perhaps finds one possible
artistic response here, which is to center the image relationally to the sound.
It seems this is a clear attempt to overcome some of the issues related to mobility
and the very small screen.
One of these issues is its highly immersive quality, as Erikki Huhtamo has
pointed out.5 Immersion here relates to an exclusion of the user from his or
her surroundings, as it creates a situation where the user does not clearly
perceive the border that separates the digital and the physical environment. To
some extent, the very short film for 2  2 in. screen is unconcerned with the
frame. This is because the mobile phone user is aware not of the frame but of
the device, its feel in the hand, and its multitask possibilities. Thus mobile films
work much better where they create complex sound environments. Sound
elements and image elements in some senses are interactive, in a process of
embeddedness that extends to all aspects of mobile phone use: they are mobile
and travel with us, embedded in our daily lives.
Whereas film requires a completely separate environment to be created for it,
such as a theatre or a television fixed in its place at home, mobile phone screens
are embedded in the environment and do not, indeed cannot, require us to
detach from them. The brevity of mobile movies at present may relate to techno-
logical limitations regarding bandwidth, reception, and resolution; but in their
brevity, they enable a level of communication that transforms spaces through
urban circulation into social places of shared use. Mobile phones promote shared
use in file sharing, but also in peer group viewing. Conversely, they also promote
immersion (as described above) and thus extend communication to enfolded
physical and virtual spaces and their communities of (peer) users.
Mobile Movies 211

Focus: This Moment was an early test for the mobile movie, and to a large
extent went unnoticed by all but the most observant. The greater impact of the
project was that it played a role in inspiring the faculty of Beijing Film Academy
and New Cinema in their current project, involving some of the Focus: This
Moment filmmakers. For both the Asiana International Short Film and Video
Festival and the Hong Kong Short Film and Video Awards, the mobile phone
films were projected large and presented as a special program omnibus that
ran about 20 minutes: removed, that is, from the mobile environment.
The program format embodies one of the major sticking points for a wholly
digital cinema that relates to screen time and efficient and profitable program-
ming in a multiplex, a business model approach to film exhibition that allows
exhibitors to move films to different screens to accommodate latest release fea-
tures and extend the season of already released films. The cheaper rerelease films
are projected with existing technology (at an estimated equipment cost of
US$10,000 per screen), whereas new release film, if wholly digital, demands a
digitally equipped theater (at an estimated equipment cost of US$100,000 per
screen) [Detmar 2004].
It seems, however, to be more significant that the mobile movie in China, as is
also the case in France, is further developing as a genre of digital cinema that has
its own exhibition contexts well away from the multiplex or traditional film
festival circuits and screening practices. The involvement of Nokia and China
Unicom among others seems to be a central aspect of this development.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong Short Film and Video Awards in conver-
sation related that Nokia was negotiation for a curated program of short film
and video from Hong Kong for its mobile networks; Nokia is the technology part-
ner of the Beijing Film Academy and New Cinema mobile film initiative; and Nokia,
together with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, is the exhibition plat-
form for the Chinese video works commissioned by Connect to Art. The Nokia
website is extensive in creating and maintaining various platforms for the pro-
duction and exhibition of mobile creative works in design, music, art, and video.
It is easy to accept what Nokia says, that the company highly values creative
works for its mobile devices. Its activities in China are also understandable, as
Greater China is its largest single market for mobile phone sales. Nokias Connect
to Art and mobile movie initiatives are well explained through its global website,
although little mention is made on the Chinese, [dot]en site. News of Nokias
activities on the mainland is distributed through traditional print media and
events catalogs. Thus the Beijing Film Academy and New Cinema initiative was
explained in print both online and in newspaper formats, and was closely fol-
lowed by news that Jia ZhangKe would make a Nokia advertisement. It seems
there is some confusion in the minds of viewers concerning the Chinese launch
of the project. The Shanghaiist, a prominent English-language blog site, for
example, posted a review of the launch entitled A Disconnect at Shanghai
MoCA. For the reviewer, there was little to see of the actual works. Nokia
supplied some phones with the works already downloaded, but took the phones
away after the press conference. There were also projections of the videos in the
building foyer entrance and the museum restaurant or cafe [Figures 2 and 3].
The review concluded that there was little to see. Chinese-language bloggers were
212 M. Fitzhenry

also disappointed with the launch in their reviews.6 The Museum of Contempor-
ary Art, Shanghai, launch of Nokia-commissioned Chinese contemporary video
works seems to lessen the impact of the mobile device in providing a traditional
art museum context.
The expectation of an art museum launch is to overwhelm the viewer, yet it
seems the general impression of the event was one of a profound underwhelming.
Beyond a couple of blogs, Nokias own press releases, and a Nokia-commissioned
catalog essay, there was little media attention. Nokia itself, through its press office
and also in contact with one of the artistic directors of Connect to Art, was very
reticent, claiming commercial sensitivity in relation to the project. Claims made
by Nokia concerning democratizing and popularizing contemporary art through
the project remain unsubstantiated [Salz 2005]. Nokias extensive website invites
communities of users to upload their own mobile movies and share them with
others. Yet the intended production and dissemination of the mobile movies
requires Nokias N-Series Studio phones (with a Carl Zeiss lens and digital video
and editing capability). These are top-of-the-range mobile phones, with all ser-
vices available (such as GPRS) and are expensive to own and to maintain. The
Nokia community of mobile movie file-sharers is very much a rich elite in China.
The launch certainly was underwhelming in terms of its immediate impact, as
art exhibition. Many of the works themselves, however, are intensely interesting.
The observations of the curator, Julie Sylvester, confirm the experience to be
gleaned from Focus: This Moment. She said, It was very interesting to see
the artists tailor their work for the mobile devices. They independently presented
works of almost identical duration, 1520 seconds, and they all included specifi-
cally made sounds as a key element of the artwork, at the international concept

Figure 2 Connect to Art. Foyer of Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, projections

(Photograph by Antony Zhu).
Mobile Movies 213

Figure 3 Connect to Art. Restaurant of Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai, projections

(Photograph by Antony Zhu).

launch in Monaco on November 2, 2005 [Nokia 2004]. Specifically, the sound

element seems to be the primary aesthetic device to enfold contexts: the physical
space, virtual space, and the imaginary spaces conjured by the user. The
Shanghaiist and the Chinese bloggers were obviously after a particular exhibition
structure they could not find at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai. Yet
the museums concept is innovative: the foyer, a space between the museum
proper and the Peoples Park, the restaurant, and the spiral ramp inside the
museum are ambiguous spaces that engage varied communicative processes
and actions. It is not the hushed environment of the picture gallery spaces. In this
there is much more room for contemplation and varied engagements with the
works. Likewise, Nokias projections were onto cylindrical translucent screens,
suggesting much in terms of veiling and unveiling and providing again multiple
perspectives on the works. The exhibition demands a long incubation, and the
feeling of being underwhelmed dissipates in contemplation of spatial folding.

It seems that the viewing experience of the mobile movieas it is also with the
BMW, or the Nike-sponsored short Internet movies and Nokias Connect to
214 M. Fitzhenry

Artis confused with marketing and finance for the mobile phone, car, and
fashion industries. The films present not quite a cinema of effectsas we could
characterize a primitive cinematic formbut confirm the critics opinion in a
recent New York Times article that suggested in conclusion that Internet films need
an Orson Wells, an unclassifiable polymath before they realize their potential
to collapse the system. This is, however, a very real potential [Clark 2006].
The cinema in the age of video is not merely responsible for itself, but also for
numerous consumption processes: as the central commodity that rallies other
consumer products around itself. The career paths of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry,
Chris Cunningham and others are from music video to film, assuming a career tele-
ology that measures success from the point at which they end up. The music video
is impoverished in that it is understood as a lesser form of the films these people are
imagined to have wanted to make at an earlier career stage.
In Asia, the whole history of manga, anime, and otuku culture generally and
kosuduresu (cross-dressing, or costume dressing) meets an urban experience parti-
cular to East and Southeast Asia, despite the Japanese origin and filtering of these
words, and finds expression in film and visual art. J-pop (Japanese popular
music), K-pop (Korean popular music), and Canto-pop (Cantonese popular
music) challenge the cinematic image, but with a different kind of cruising than
that suggested by Kent Jones. Perhaps this is because of urban density, where cit-
ies such as Tokyo and Hong Kong, and to a lesser extent Seoul, are vertically
(rather than horizontally) arranged. In these East Asian cities, cruising is not
necessarily driving a car along broad boulevards or in the countryside, but is dis-
persed in that it presents highly mobile spaces that spring up unexpectedly in the
most unlikely places.
J-pop occurs as if spontaneously performed by small groups of people during
hokosha tenkoku (literally, pedestrian heaven), on and under the footbridges
that span Harajuku Dori in Tokyos Shibuya ward, as much as it does in fashion
and music magazines, films, live performances on stage, and music videos. Not
only are the pop music artists heavily inspired by filmscapes, but also musical
experiences have become more important to cinema. Horwath, Jones, and Jousse
describe a European and North American context for the contemporary viewer.
In Jousses analysis, this viewer is a fish in the aquarium, alienated both from
film history, where cable programming promotes juxtapositions rather than stud-
ied correspondences between films viewed with bleary-eyed late night insomnia,
and from the DVD supplement that panders to film buffery and the academic
world of connoisseurship.
With the analogy of listening to music in mind, the experience of film-on-video is
closely associated with that of cruising the city streets in a car with the radio on loud.
The act of cruisingdriving a car aimlessly, just for the pleasure of driving, with the
radio on loudlyhas created a material base for a new experience of space and
place. As it has always been in relation to the cinema, despite resurgence in the idea
of traveling and open-air cinema in village and rural areas, cruising is an experience
that is intensely urban.7 It is also an experience closely associated with California and
those wide and (relatively) fast streets of a West Coast city. The idea of cruising sug-
gests a much more dispersed experience of film. One implication, if we work with
the analogy of listening to music and cruising, is that film is best thought of as a
Mobile Movies 215

media form existing among other media forms. This takes account of changes
noticed by Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic, and Joe Roth, a producer. Kael
noted that movie-going in the 1990s in America was thriving, but that the impulse
to go to see a film had changed: Although there is a fear on the part of some in
the press that movies are dying, the medium itself is still exciting to school kids
maybe more exiting than ever. It is the art of film as we used to talk about it that
is probably metamorphosing into something else. Roth summarized the excitement
generated by movie-going, thus: Its all about visual effects. Thats the key to reach-
ing someone in under five seconds in a cluttered world [Dixon 2000]. Where once
film was about the possibilities of the art of cinema, the discussion of film now neces-
sarily veers toward the cinemas mediatic status.
The critic Raymond Bellour has written illuminatingly on his own generations
cinephilia, thus: In the 1950s, an intrepid and obsessed adolescent could still
believe, innocently, that it was possible to know cinema, to be able to carve out
in his finite world an immense province where cinephilia could operate like a con-
spiracy [Bellour 2003; 29]. Image culture today seems to operate in a similar way to
this, in the sense that one can come to know image culture in the conspiratorial,
almost secretive way of discovery. Within the cultural map of art, popular culture,
architecture, design, fashion, and film it is possible to discover new and interesting
forms and expressions of the moving image. It is almost as if one can find ones own
path, by navigation, through the flow of a media saturated society.
Resfest has its counterpart in the world of touring art exhibitions in Cities on the
Move, an exhibition of Asian art, architecture, and film that toured cities in Europe,
America, and Asia (Bangkok) from the middle 1990s. In terms of film, the exhibition
included Wong Kar Wais Fallen Angels and Takeshi Kitanos Kids Return. Yet both
Resfest and Cities on the Move see the engagement between the city and an exhibition
in similar terms. Both cities and exhibitions are intersections of local, regional, and
global forces of culture, politics, and capital. They are congestions of bodies in space,
a kind of urban density that exaggerates distinctions between the local and the global,
producing hybridizing effects. They confront norms and are premised on a kind of
nomadism in that they are built on rapid responsiveness to changing circumstances,
spawning patterns of behavior that transcend specific cultures, communities, or local-
ities. They are control systems that monitor and shape brand and create new networks
of consumers and producers. They produce mobile identities by bringing together
images from afar and making them proximate in ways that overcome local and global
boundaries. They premise identities that are not fixed to particular concepts of region
or territorythey produce deterritorialized, hybridized, and constantly shifting
forms of identity. This is a mobility that engenders new wish-landscapes through
tourism and migration [Appadurai 1996]. They engender a new global economy
premised on fluidity, flexibility, and decentralization.

1. There is a growing body of work that details how these different spaces (plane, car, TV,
computer) affect the experience of space and construct and deconstruct communities of
viewers. Much of this work is in the field of visual anthropology, which constitutes a
216 M. Fitzhenry

micro-ethnography of the viewer and narrates entanglements of space and mediating

technologies. See, as an example, Couldry and McCarthy [2005].
2. M. Fitzhenry has detailed some of the impact of new film festival formats and digital
technologies in a Chinese-language publication, Guo ji dian jie he dian ying de liu tong
(International Film Festivals and Film Communication) [Beijing: Film Art Publishing
Company, 2005].
3. The source of this information is QingLiang (a pen name).
4. For a more detailed discussion of these arguments, see Detmar [2004].
5. Erikki Huhtamo, pers. comm., 12122002.
6. In the English language, see Shanghaiist; in the Chinese language, see Antony Zhus
7. In late 20052006 (the 100th anniversary of cinema in China), newspapers reported a
revival in community-based cinema in the country, with one group of retired men tour-
ing rural areas in a van with donated prints of popular Chinese films; while in urban
districts community centers started screening free films in plush residential complexes
as well as poorer urbanized villages. Obviously this was a nostalgic return to the travel-
ing cinema shows and community-based cinemas that were prevalent almost every-
where in China from the 1910s and in some regions through to the 1950s and 1960s.
The interest for this was also undoubtedly inspired by centennial celebrations. Despite
this, interest surely lay just as much with the fostering of a varied film culture in China
and with a multiplicity of film contexts beyond the multiplex.

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