There is something truly unique about the odd mix of multicultural influences, transience and gleeful sprawl that goes into shaping a global metropolis like Los Angeles, Cairo or Casablanca. Each of these cities has, of course, been represented on film in numerous different ways over the years, rarely intersecting. Now, though, these three locales have been united through the perspectives of five talented international filmmakers… and their iPhones.
Through the Global Media Makers (GMM) program, we have ignited collaborations between our group of international Fellows and US-based Film Independent Fellows to create a series of original short films, shot entirely on iPhone.
During their six-week LA residency, a core element of the international filmmaker exchange initiative’s effort was to create a dialogue between artists from different countries, joining forces to explore their surroundings both home and abroad. Global Media Makers is supported through a partnership between Film Independent and the U. S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Last year we highlighted Transit, the exquisite graphic and rhythmic view of LA through the eyes of Lebanese Fellow Amin Dora, but this year we are taking it a step further by creating a direct line between the stories and experiences of unique individuals in Northern Africa, Southern California and beyond.
As with last year, each of the projects was shot on iPhone and using the FiLMiC Pro app to enhance filmmaker control over focus, exposure, frame rates and motion FX—not to mention audio metering and gain control. Projects were edited on Final Cut Pro X. Many of the filmmakers also used the Beast Grip stabilizing device for handheld shooting.
To watch the iPhone shorts and learn a little more about how they came to be, please check out our YouTube channel. Or better yet, just keep reading!
VENICE UNTITLED (dir. Layal Rhanem)
When asked what inspired her shorts Venice Untitled and How High, Moroccan GMM Fellow Layal Rhanem cited LA’s street art scene. “The first thing that hit me [about LA] were the huge, beautiful murals in different parts of the city,” she recalled. “The original idea was to explore the transformations of neighborhoods through the eyes of a graffiti artist.”
The nonfiction short Venice Untitled, shot in collaboration with US-based Project Involve Fellow Carolyn Mao, profiles one of the many artists expressing themselves at Venice Beach’s storied graffiti wall—the last legal graffiti wall left in LA.
On shooting with iPhone, Mao said, “It was great to be so mobile and to be able to shoot spontaneously to create such high-quality footage.” Both filmmakers, in fact, cited, as a high point of their collaboration, the opportunity to learn more about the technical aspects of shooting with iPhone, including how to best utilize tools and accessories like Beast Grip and Filmic Pro—perfect for pros like Rhanem and Mao.
Part of the appeal, Rhanem said, was graffiti’s transitory nature as art is what appealed to Rhanem in selecting it as a subject to explore. “We liked the idea that their work disappears in a very short time,” she said.
“Layal was very inquisitive about the different neighborhoods that make LA unique,” added Mao. “She wanted to get to know LA through the stories of people like Javier. My favorite part [of the collaboration] was having the freedom to explore the city with Layal and create a fun video in the process.” Mission accomplished!
HOW HIGH (dir. Layal Rhanem)
For her Javier companion piece How High, Rhanem returned home to Casablanca to create another short artist profile.
This one’s about a group of young painters preparing to tackle the painting of an enormous mural on the side of one of the Moroccan metropolis’s largest office towers. Ascending the scaffolding for a highly physical task—as much a death-defying stunt as it is an artistic pursuit—the iPhone’s portability and dexterity made it possible for Rhanem to capture the action in a way a bulkier film camera could not.
“It was especially fun using the FiLMiC Pro app,” said Rhanem. “I knew there were accessories to help, but I’d never tried then until we started this workshop.”
7 YEARS (dir. Ahmad Abdalla)
Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla’s collaborative iPhone workshop short 7 Years is a quasi-sequel of sorts to his hit international 2010 narrative feature, Microphone, an acclaimed chronicle of the underground art scene bubbling up in conservative Alexandria, Egypt.
Seven years after Microphone’s success, Abdalla, a 2017 GMM Fellow, reconnects with several of that film’s young subjects, mostly skateboarders and videographers, in, of all places, LA.
Turns out, many of the film’s subjects gravitated to the City of Angels in an attempt to “make it” as artists on a global scale. Abdalla created the film in collaboration with Film Independent Producing Lab and Project Involve Fellow Frederick Thornton.
SINCERELY YOURS (dir. Mohamed Samir)
Created by Egyptian GMM Fellow Mohamed Samir, Sincerely Yours is an expressionistic love letter by the filmmaker to those he left behind: Egypt, its people and his own loved ones.
The moody eight-minute piece is reminiscent, in its dense texture and bittersweet tone, of work by Chris Marker or Terrence Malick—beautifully juxtaposing nostalgic images from Samir’s hometown of Cairo with those captured in real time on the iPhone during Samir’s time in LA.
From Dodger Stadium to the Walk of Fame to Venice Beach, Samir’s “visual letter” sums up LA’s fascinating, alien strangeness in ways many larger-scale media projects consistently fail to capture.
OFF FRAME (dir. Mohamed Siam)
Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Siam’s Off Frame is an impressionistic travelogue through LA’s Koreatown neighborhood, as guided by the input of Spa Night director, and freshly minted Spirit Award winner, Andrew Ahn.
“I like films about ghettos and little communities inside the big community,” said Siam. “Once I visited Koreatown, I felt an instant attachment to it. That’s what made me love the idea.”
“As someone who’s lived in immigrant communities around the world, Siam’s perspective on Koreatown felt both personal and nuanced,” said Ahn.
“At first I thought, ‘It’ll be sort of quick and hasty to [shoot] this footage with an iPhone,’” recalled Siam, “until I started to get into the process of prepping our film and [saw] how the marriage between the iPhone and its software, plus a few gadgets, could result in a very professional outcome.”
When asked for advice on shooting with iPhone, Siam said, “Rehearse your shots. As long as the camera is in your pocket, [you can] do it many times and take your time. The iPhone allowed us to capture a certain level of candidness and truth—something that was really important in our collaboration.”
“[Andrew] was so flexible and open to the fluidity of my floating idea. He was the best possible partner,” said Siam.
BEIRUT (dir. Mohamed Siam)
Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Siam’s collaborative video is a visual journey through Beirut, shot entirely on December 31, 2017.
Siam captures the Lebanese capital on a visual journey from dawn to dusk, framed in such a way that the sky is emphasized rather than the ribbon of cityscape beneath. With the piece, Siam seeks to convey the emotion of looking ahead to the New Year, visually and intellectually eliminating the borders separating people.
ONE AMONG PEOPLE (dir. Hossam Elouan)
One Among People is Egyptian GMM Fellow Hossam Elouan’s lively snapshot of one particular Cairo taxi driver. In just 90 seconds, the unnamed man states his philosophy: The meaning of life is love and loving other brings love upon oneself.
There’s no better way to learn about a city or a country than to engage with its taxi drivers. Shot over the course of one short ride through the city, this unassuming short offers tremendous insight into the condition of modern day Egypt and its people.
“I was riding a taxi back home and was really tired. The driver started [talking], and I noticed there was something poetic in the way he [talked]. I told him, ‘Hold on, I’ll film you,’” said Elouan. “I think one of the advantages of having a phone with a good video camera is the immediacy.”
Cairo has the same trappings that make life in a major city difficult: the dense crowds, heavy traffic and added security. Yet it’s a city marked with kindness and love, creating fleeting beauty that often goes unnoticed and uncaptured, which is why Elouan found the iPhone to be an invaluable filmmaking tool.
“Life is full of beautiful things to explore, [that] pass in front of our eyes very quickly,” explained Elouan. “You don’t need to wait until you prepare your camera. Just take your phone out and start filming.”