The Sundance Kid came calling on cellphones today, as film industry icon Robert Redford today hailed the phone as a new medium that could revive the film-short genre, despite current low-viewing figures.

Appearing at the Mobile World Congress along with Italian filmmaker Isabella Rossellini, who unveiled her Sundance Channel-backed short, "Green Porno," Redford said "I'm obviously here because I'm excited by the new opportunities. Suddenly, there was a venue for short films."

Redford, Rossellini and others were among many panelists at the Mobile Backstage track of the conference, sponsored by THR parent Nielsen. They wrestled with questions of how to get people to start watching mobile film and video, and how to make a viable business out of it.

While music services are catching on, video usage remains low in Western Europe and the U.S. because of poor user experiences and confusing and high pricing.

Jeff Herrmann, VP at Nielsen Mobile, kicked off the day's discussions with an analysis of mobile content usage that noted poor subscriber retention for mobile video, with a U.S. average of just 2.5 months. He called on advertisers to support the medium in hopes of a dual revenue stream fueling more quality programming.

Noting that last year was "experimental" when Redford's Sundance Institute funded five short mobile film projects for the Mobile World Congress (then called 3GSM), Redford said that with "Porno," "we've taken it to the next level."

Redford said his passion for short films started in childhood when he would watch shorts at theaters in Los Angeles. "I loved them as a kid," he said.

Many of the panelists agreed that the lack of funding for mobile shorts remains a barrier, as neither cellular carrier, broadcasters or others are jumping in with cash.

"That's my big question", said Jody Shapiro, who produced "Porno" with Rossellini. "Where's it going to come from?"

Redford agreed.

"The question is, who's going to be brave enough to support the innovators," Redford said. He pointed out that funding has to also include a fair share for writers, who he praised for their long hold-out in the Hollywood strike. "Most of the time over the years, they've gotten the sort end of the stick. By going on this long, you have to have a lot courage, or be crazy."

He praised the digital Internet outlets like YouTube for their "democratizing" effect, but cautioned against a possible decline in quality. "You have a lot of junk," he said.

Asked if he truly believes the mobile phone will be a serious venue for short films, Redford acknowledged "nobody knows what's going to happen," but said "I believe there is a future."

In a separate panel, Rossellini showed clips from "Porno," a series of informative shorts that depicts the sex life of insects. Rosellini dresses up as various bugs and comically delivers facts about them.

In one installment, as a male mosquito, she tells viewers that mosquituos see 200 times better than humans, beat their wings 200 times a second and "have sex
several times a day, any opportunity, any female."

Rossellini, said flashy is important, and "to me, flashy translate into sex."

Redford told several anecdotes about a past that included sneaking into movie theaters as a kid, dropping out of college and traveling to Majorca to paint as a young man. He also recounted how in the early 1970's he attempted to distribute non-mainstream films to college campuses. "There was a radical vibe you could capitalize on." The initiative failed within weeks, because as Redford recalled, college kids preferred mainstream cinema like "Dr. Zhivago."

He's hoping that his latest radical distribution medium, the cellphone, will last a little longer.

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter if he watches films on his cellphones other than when he's working on them Redford quipped, "when I'm not making them, I ski."

Another headliner at the Mobile Backstage event, Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, said earlier in the day that he doesn't watch videos on a cellphone -- even though he makes them. "I'd rather listen to the songs- I'm on the go," he said. A technology enthusiasist, he listens to full tracks on various mobile devices including an iPhone, a Blackberry and a Nokia N95.

In the day's most humorous reality check, David Lynch appeared sardonically on a YouTube clip with a damning indictment of mobile films. "If you play the movie on a telephone, you'll never in a trillion years experience the film," he deadpans. "It's such a sadness that you think you're experiencing a film on your f*#!ing telephone. Get real."

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