International Mobil Fest Delivers a Democratized Experience In the Art of Film Production

This week I had the amazing pleasure of speaking with Susy Botello, the organizer and founder of a fascinating concept that democratizes filmmaking.


International Mobil Film Festival™ is a fest only for films shot with mobile phones. All brands of mobile phones qualify, all ages qualify. Submissions will require a fee this year to keep the festival going– but S. Botello is glad to be able to roll out a new category! Feature length films are due to her by October 19. If you have one in your pocket, now’s a good time to submit!

What inspired you to start your festival?
I get asked where my idea to start the film festival. But what truly inspired me and lead me to take that giant step is a story.

It’s a story about how I feel about storytelling and sharing. Humans are naturally storytellers. We begin to learn how to speak and share stories from the time we are babies. It dates back before we mastered language beyond cave walls. Today, our wall is on Facebook and our audience is all over the world in many social media platforms. Video and film was what I called a “limiter.”

Only certain people had access to the art of creating films and sharing them in limited platforms such as cable television and theaters. There were always film festivals but there were fewer than there are today, which I believe is attributed to more “mobile” cameras like DSLRs.

But still, there was the internet and the storyteller.

I envisioned a day when the phones would become the camera more accessible to human beings anywhere in the world. All humans are natural storytellers. What we needed to share stories between us was already here, the internet. But when social media became a thing, it was like the missing link. I wanted to ensure cameras on phones competed with each other to progress. I wanted to give the world the gift of filmmaking, which I believe is the best way to submerge someone into a story and deliver a message. I decided to dare everyone to do it. But not to put it online.

I wanted to give someone with a film shot with a mobile phone camera the same respect any independent filmmaker receives in a traditional film festival in order to create a “parallel” to the film industry. I believed this would catch on and as more people took on the challenge, more phone manufacturers would justify their investment in focusing equal time to the cameras on their phones as they did in the rest of their phone’s hardware and software. Where there is a demand there is a business working to fulfill it. We so share some of the films online in our YouTube channel after the festival in San Diego. Also, some filmmakers cannot share them online because there are still festivals forbidding filmmakers from sharing their films online. This doesn’t affect our film festival. But it does restrict progress and growth for individual independent filmmakers who are not famous Hollywood filmmakers and would like to build their following

When we shoot media, be it a photo or video, we share it online through social media. But guess what else we share? We share ourselves with that media. When a video or photo, a meme or whatever, goes viral…it’s the person who posted it or created it that receives attention as well. That is where social media is helpful to filmmakers who shooting films and videos using smartphones. You can edit a film using a computer and then sharing it, or you can edit your film right on your phone and share it. But you shoot it using the phone everyone has access to more than any other camera in the world. And I know that by creating a film festival exclusive to mobile phones does not leave out any one who has a camera because they too have smartphones. Sure, you can shoot using a great camera with great depth of field which eventually the best phone manufacturers will figure out how to fit one into a smartphone . . . but most films are about stories. And a good story should not be limited. It should be shared for everyone in the world to access. And it should also be told by everyone who has a camera everyone has access to.

I suppose that is a long answer to your simple question but I am very passionate about
democratizing storytelling through film. The process and the potential this has to make the world better for everyone is very inspiring.

It seems that a key point in your festival’s selection is the notion of democracy in
filmmaking. That anyone can make a film with the gear they have in their pocket. Can you tell me more about that?

I realize I answer the question of democratization with filmmaking using smartphone cameras. But to add to it, I’d like to point out something magical that happened in our last film festival. Last year we had filmmakers from Canada, Australia, Germany and Chile attend our festival in San Diego. We also had a couple local filmmakers who attended. On the red carpet and Q&A Panel there were about 8 filmmakers from different parts of the world and there, right there with them was an 82 year-old experienced filmmaker with an 11 year-old novice. Each and everyone of them shot their films with only smartphones. Can it get more democratized than that?

What awesome concepts have you seen people carry out on technology as simple as
smartphone? Any specifically awesome moments or shots?

I started to organize this in 2009 and by the time I had a venue to present the films on the big screen to hold our first film festival, I had already seen many films. At first, people experimented with music videos. There are many things you can get away with in music videos, from shaky cameras to pixelated visuals which add visual texture to music. It was an experimental medium. As time passed there were more narrative films that emerged. Between back then and now, I have seen so many films! We had over 260 films last year and I watched all of them at least three times. Yeah, I watch the films myself. Every single one of them. But there are many films,some which don’t even make it to our festival which are pretty amazing.

I am still going to give praise to Conrad Mess. Conrad Mess submitted his first mobile film shot with an iPhone 4 to us in 2011. It was our first submission. Finally a film submitted! It was epic. I asked him to cut it down in time to 3 minutes, which was our time limit during our inaugural festival. I featured his film to inspire people who wondered or were curious, or those who had doubts. There are many creative shots and videos I have seen over the years like people putting phones in different places where cameras would never make it, creating shots that are intriguing and they can do wonders in dialogues creating a sense of intimacy which can be difficult to accomplish with traditional cameras, there are even creative shots using more than one phone to shoot and
record audio for one scene and then there are many experimental films which use the natural mobile phone effects and limitations to their advantage. When it comes to the blockbuster film or the film you expect to see in the theater or on Netflix, for example…that’s where Conrad Mess blows your mind. He uses iPhones but I don’t limit filmmakers in our film festival to shoot with any one brand. The dare is to make the best film you can make using any mobile phone which includes cell phones and smartphones.

Is there anything in specific you want readers to know about this year’s fest?
We are accepting feature length films this year. I mean, 40-80 minutes in length. The deadline is very close! October 19 is the deadline for the Mobile Feature Film Competition. Our Mobile Short Film Competition is 1-5 minutes in length and the deadline for that is November 19. There is a lot to share with you about what we are planning for our film festival next year #MFF2018SanDiego.

Facebook: @MobilFilmFestival
Instagram: @MobileFilmSD

Twitter pages: @MobileFilmSD and @MobilFilmFest.

The main thing is this, if you made a film or are making a film using your
smartphone, our film festival in San Diego is one not to miss. We hold our film festival every year during the last weekend of April. 2018 is our seventh annual film festival and it’s going to be one you don’t want to miss. I am personally looking forward to meeting the filmmakers on our red carpet.

The red carpet is in your pocket!™

S. Botello leads a charge for democratized filmmaking:

edit 10/2: Submissions will require a fee this year, to keep the costs of the festival in check. The press kit will be updated to reflect that specific circumstance.