'Sunshine' directors get cell phone call

Robert Redford and Sundance unveiled a plan Wednesday to commission shorts from established filmmakers and distribute them on cell phones.

“Little Miss Sunshine” helmers Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris top the list of directors who will create the shorts, organizers said Wednesday at a Gotham press conference.

The Sundance Institute has allocated the helmers a budget and said they can turn in any type of film as long as it is under five minutes long.

Program, handled in conjunction with mobile trade group the GSM Assn., will unspool at mega-wireless confab 3GSM, held in Barcelona in February. Shorts will be available for download, ad-free and at no cost, to all attendees. Idea is to interest mobile carriers so that they will then offer the films to consumers.

Later, shorts will also be offered for free download on the Sundance and GSM Web sites. GSM is thought to rep about 700 carriers around the world.

In addition to Dayton and Faris, Justin Lin (“Better Luck Tomorrow,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift”), Maria Maggenti (“Puccini for Beginners”), Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way”) and Cory McAbee (“The American Astronaut”) round out the list of filmmakers making movies for the program. All jumpstarted their careers at Sundance.

Pics won’t be seen at Sundance in January, though fest will present its traditional shorts program, which this year consisted of about 75 films, and also stream many movies from that program free on the Web when fest ends.

Rumors also persist that new-media companies could offer their own showcase for shorts at the fest.

New program amounts to a wireless version of the Sundance Institute’s creative labs. Redford said he wants Sundance to do for shorts in 2006 what it has done for indie features over the past two decades, alluding to what technology has made possible since Sundance began.

“This is a venue no would have dared to predict in 1985,” he said.

But many of the details are still unformed, including under what business model carriers would offer the films and how a skeptical public will be persuaded to watch video about unfamiliar characters on a very small screen.

Still, Redford’s involvement amounts to a strong Hollywood voice for a format drawing increasing interest from entertainment companies and studios. Viacom and Sony Pictures are among those investing in shorts through their respective new-media subsids, AtomFilms and Grouper.

Redford hinted that new media will enable further creative enterprises for both the fest and the institute.

“This is just one step of much more to come for Sundance and new technologies,” he said.

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