Shot on a Cell Phone, But Not in Afghanistan

For more than a year, filmmaker Cyrus Frisch heard and observed growing tensions between Dutch and immigrant kids beneath his office window in central Amsterdam. As he worked on another film, he began shooting the heckling occurring in the plaza - with his cell phone camera. The 70-minute avant garde piece is nearly without dialogue and is seen through the perspective of an Afghan war veteran played by Frisch.

The result is Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me It Would Become This Bad in Afghanistan, full of grainy, diffuse and pixelated video that's hard to watch, but maybe that's the point. In a post-screening interview, Frisch said he wanted to make an intimate film about what fear does to people. He used the cell phone, a Sharp 903 with a 3.2 megapixel camera, because "It helped me telling the story if I made images that were so poor that you couldn't precisely hear or see what was going on. It makes it more powerful."

Frisch shot 150 hours of footage over the course of 15 months. He winnowed it down and watched about 80 hours of it. An established director in Holland who's cut his teeth making short films, documentaries and feature films, Frisch said he avoided telling anyone he was using a cell phone to make a film: "I was very insecure about whether it would work out well at all."

"The [film's] main statement is about fear...and there is a lot of fear [post 9/11] in Dutch society," Frisch noted. "Immigrants are more scared than ever, but they're also standing up for themselves in the face of discrimination."

In one scene, Frisch's disembodied character goes to a grocery store and observes an altercation between security guards who are detaining an immigrant man. The jarring incident plays out on camera; the detained man screams at the guards. The viewer is moved to another segment and never finds out how the conflict is resolved.

The film is elaborately edited and spliced with images from what passes for Afghanistan, or so we think. During an interview, I asked Frisch about the images, some of which sport a much better resolution compared to the jiggly, grainy cell phone footage. It's not Afghanistan at all, but footage Frisch shot in Namibia for his forthcoming feature "Black Water Fever," billed as a road movie about a guy with malaria. At times, the footage is so grainy, so distorted, it's hard to watch. And then suddenly, it grows more luminous as a dreamy pink sheen appears, casting an otherworldly glow. A filmmaker's interpretive device, or an editing conceit? Either way, Frisch is an auteur with a flair for the unconventional.

Frisch says he's interested in building an international platform for filmmakers who will make films about global problems (hunger, environment, discrimination, war). He wants to organize them so that each makes a fictional feature film about one specific global problem. His director picks? "I'd love to get Quentin Tarantino or someone with his sensibility."

Frisch, labeled les enfant terrible of Dutch cinema, shouldn't be underestimated. He's got a camera and he knows how to use it. However, it's not clear whether he'll ever undertake another impressionistic meditation on film using a cell phone camera.

For more HuffPost coverage of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, go here.

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