• Claire Bradshaw

Smartphone Film Wins NY Film Festival For Local Talent

How do you use the video function of your smartphone? For most people, the honest answer is probably “Uploading cute Instagram stories of my dog” or “Filming fireworks or live music concerts and then never watching the videos again”. Considering the leaps and bounds smartphone video technology has made in recent years, for many people, its potential remains largely untapped. But not for Jason van Genderen.

Eleven years after he made his first smartphone film, and with several major film festival achievements under his belt, this Central Coast ‘filmbreaker’ is at the peak of his creative stride. His most recent wins were two of the top nods at New York’s Moment Invitational Film Festival: Best Mini Documentary and Best Film (Filmmakers’ Choice). The festival involved almost 1,000 entries of films three minutes and under, shot entirely on smartphones. For its fifteen finalists (of whom Jason was the only Australian), there was an incredible $100,000 prize pool – $20,000 of which was brought home by Jason himself for his film Beholder.

Shot on iPhone XS, the film is about Jason’s late father Jan, a self-taught sculptor, and Jason’s rediscovery of his artworks, which had been hidden away in his garage. Much like the artworks themselves, Beholder is beautifully simple, heartfelt and honest. Its success at the Moment Festival is as much a recognition of Jason’s talent as it is a tribute to his father’s. “It was a beautiful honour to be able to make a story about my dad and his work,” Jason says. “And for someone who was as much a recluse as he was with his artwork, it was really nice to give it a global audience and to have his work seen in New York.”

For Jason and other creatives like him, the increasingly bright spotlight on smartphone films speaks to a shift in both the filmmaking industry and the world of content at large. That shift is something Jason’s video production agency, Treehouse Creative, fully embraced when they made the switch to 100% smartphone production around 18 months ago.

“For us, it’s really become a bit of a rebirth as a story production house. It’s changed the way we look at how we tell stories, it’s changed the way we look at the kinds of stories we can tell,” Jason explains. “I think we’ve really enjoyed that process – it’s liberated us as creatives, and it’s stripped down a lot of barriers to getting into making video stories for more people, more brands, more causes and organisations.”

While it’s nice to be the first (and currently only) agency in Australia with this unique approach to filmmaking and storytelling, Jason doesn’t hesitate to encourage others to join them on this path. “I’m a huge advocate for trying to spread the word – I want to get more people involved in this. I don’t want Treehouse to be the only agency in Australia that’s doing this!” he laughs. “I think there’s a lot of space for a lot more people to do a similar sort of thing. We’ve proven that we’re not just making social media fodder; we’re creating big national television campaigns this way. There are no barriers to what we’re making, which I think is the refreshing thing.”

The approach taken by Treehouse Creative is also reflected in the ‘Filmbreaker’ initiative, a smartphone-focused cinema movement championed by Jason. Launched in early 2018, the Filmbreaker community on Facebook currently has 30,000 members and is growing every day.

“We just put the question out there: who else is out there that believes in this? Who else feels that this is another way that we can make stories?” Jason explains. “It had been, at that stage, 16 or 17 years since there had been any new cinematic movements recognised. It was astounding in the world of cinema that we’d gone through this extreme, incredibly creative, incredibly technology-focused era, and yet nothing new had been officially recognised or celebrated. So we thought, we’ll try to start our own movement and see where that goes.”

There’s a lot involved in being a ‘filmbreaker’, and it keeps Jason plenty busy. He’s up for another award at the upcoming International New York Film Festival and has almost finished an intriguing-sounding feature documentary about the darker side of crowdfunding. He’s also hoping to make a longer-format story continuing the exploration of his dad’s work we see in Beholder. The next stage he has in mind will allow him to create new stories and find new homes for his dad’s sculptures, honouring his work, his life and his legacy.

So what would Jason want his own legacy to be?

“In my particular passion, through storytelling and filmmaking, I’d love my legacy to be that we can dissolve barriers and make storytelling something that’s accessible for everyone, anywhere.”

“Storytelling is a rich part of every part of our life. When we think about the way we live as families, the way we work, the way we educate ourselves, the way we entertain ourselves – storytelling’s all around us, and yet a lot of us feel that it’s something that’s only accessible to a privileged few. So I think if I can help dissolve those barriers and help make storytelling and filmmaking a more accessible medium for everyone to enjoy, that would make me a very happy person.”

Find out more about Jason at www.jasonvangenderen.com, and view the award-winning film Beholder on YouTube.

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