To the untrained eye, Marcelo Tobar’s film “Oso Polar” (Polar Bear), which picked up the Best Mexican Feature award at the recent Morelia Film Festival, looks to all intents and purposes like any other movie made in this country on a limited budget.
What sets “Oso Polar” apart from the crowd is that it wasn’t filmed using an expensive, traditional film camera but with an iPhone – yes, that $US500 device that many of us carry around just to call our loved ones, send messages, book restaurant tables, take snaps of the dog and listen to our favorites bands.
Like director Sean Baker’s feature “Tangerine” – the buzz of the recent Sundance Film Festival – “Oso Polar” was shot on an iPhone 5S (as well as some scenes filmed on an iPhone 4 and an old Nokia) using the modest $US9 FiLMiC Pro app – albeit with a few professional extras to improve the sound quality and an anamorphic lens. The entire budget for the 80-minute, award-winning film: $US12,000.
“Oso Polar” is a psychological thriller that takes a fresh look at the issue of childhood bullying. As three friends head to a primary school reunion, the movie asks the question whether as adults our characters are really any different than when we were seven years old. It’s a relevant piece of work that is now hitting Mexico’s “alternative” theatrical release circuit.
Tobar, who earned accolades and prizes for his 2013 feature “Asteroide” (also made frugally with a budget of $US60,000), compared making movies on an iPhone with musicians who have used digital technology to fight the monopolistic music industry elites. Calling smartphone production the “democratization” of movie making, Tobar reflected on the determination filmmakers need to realize their dreams.
This is the story of my career,” he said. “If you are a filmmaker, you have to film, and if they don’t give you any money, you do whatever you must.”