Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger portions at the local fast food joint: In America, the guiding maxim is to think big–really big.

At Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, Dean Dianne Lynch is encouraging students to think small–really small. And she’s offering a $5,000 prize to do it.

The school has invited high school and college students from across America to submit a 30-second student film shot entirely with a camera cell phone.

It might seem like an attention-grabbing gimmick, but Lynch leaves no doubt of the contest’s academic purpose. In today’s media marketplace–where cell phones can take pictures, play music and games, be a personal secretary, or connect to web sites–it’s all about thinking small and mobile, she said.

“Historically, we’ve always had students thinking bigger and bigger. It’s gone from radio to television to the movie screen, to the era of blockbuster films. All of a sudden, things have reversed and everything is getting smaller,” said Lynch.

The submission deadline is Jan. 10. A winner will be chosen from among 10 finalists and announced online Jan. 30.

As of early December, there were more than 70 entries and scores of eMail inquiries. Lynch said she expected a surge in submissions after the holidays.

The idea came to Lynch last year while she was in New York City attending an industry conference. One of the topics was the future of mobile delivery.

“As an educator, you’re responsible for looking out five years to what’s on the horizon. What will students need to know in five years? This was an opportunity for the school to anticipate, rather than react,” she said.

Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina showed what camera cell phones are capable of as everyday people used them to provide television stations and the internet with vivid firsthand images of the flooding and devastation.

According to an Associated Press report, there are already an estimated 2 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide–a virtually untapped market.

Lynch said one study by The Gartner Group estimated that, by 2008, one in five cell phones will be a “smart” phone, one with extra features such as a video camera. Another study, by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that 45 percent of U.S. teens surveyed already have their own cell phones, she said.

Major media companies already are reissuing previously released movies for cell phones.

MTV recently launched “Head and Body,” a series of eight programs created exclusively for cell phone users. MTV reportedly already has sold $100 million worth of music videos, advertising, and animation to mobile phone users around the world.

Last year, Zoie Films, an Atlanta-based producer of independent films and festivals, ran what it billed as the world’s first cell-phone film festival.

And in October, the Forum des Images in Paris held its first Pocket Film Festival, which included everything from 30-second shorts to mini soap operas to full-length features.

“It’s exciting. We were discussing this last year in film club. As soon as I heard, I went immediately to the dean’s office and said, ‘How can I enter?'” said Sasha Stefanova, an Ithaca College junior from Kazanlak, Bulgaria, majoring in film photography and visual arts.

“I love old films and old-school techniques. The challenge here is how to get a meaningful idea into such an everyday tool,” she said.

Stefanova is still pondering over her entry. She is traveling home to Bulgaria for the holidays and plans to shoot scenes during her travels.

“It will be about my generation’s mobility and the falling down of borders,” she said.

Sudhanshu Saria is a senior in film making at Ithaca College and likes the novel challenges presented by working with a cell phone and a 1- to 2-inch screen.

“When I first heard of the idea, I thought this could be gimmicky,” said Saria, from Silguri, India. “There’s hundreds of film festivals out there. We need one. So were going to make it a cell phone. But I hope people studying film will take it as my generation’s chance to provide a new language, a new way of thinking.”

The rules of the contest are simple. There must be a story, a narrative, and sound, and the film must be shot on a cell phone.

Ithaca College sent out thousands of postcards across the country to high school guidance counselors to promote the contest. The winner does not have to attend Ithaca College.

“When I talk to parents about it, there’s always this stunned silence. But the kids, they don’t miss a beat. You tell college kids you’re doing this and they get it immediately,” Lynch said.

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of film students and faculty, who will select 10 finalists. These entries will be judged by a panel of faculty and professional filmmakers.

“The challenge is, can you capture an audience member’s attention in 30 seconds and hold it an environment where not only is the delivery system small, but the time frame is short?” Lynch said. “Every single frame matters. There’s no excess. That’s an incredible discipline to develop.”

Links:

Contest web site
http://www.cellflixfestival.org