Desktop Films

We spend more and more of our lives in front of small screens. We devote more and more of our (leisure) time to online pursuits. Classical forms of entertainment, such as theatrical moviegoing, suffer from this shift from the physical to the virtual. Although summer tentpoles still tout box office records, attendance is dropping off (and only higher ticket prices can conceal that trend). To combat this development, some filmmakers are honoring the old adage “If you can’t beat them, join them”.


Smartphone, computer, tablet and television screens seem to have to upper hand on the silver screen that is traditionally the habitat of the feature film. Instead of taking the fight (and their content) to those small screens, a number of recent films have opted to bring those digital screens into their cinematic realm in a very radical way. Desktop films are audiovisual narratives that unfold entirely on a computer screen, using the myriad apps and programs as vessels for parts of their narration.

This video essay by film student Katja Jansen examines the unique opportunities that arise from this self-imposed limitation. (Fittingly, it does so in the form of a desktop video.) Jansen gives a clear overview of the most remarkable examples of this budding genre, and makes some astute observations about the stylistic, narrative and thematic peculiarities and possibilities of the form.


The desktop film may be a format that is uniquely attuned to our times. It might also turn out to be a mere gimmick that will have run its course after a handful of films. For now, it’s a fascinating mini-trend that warrants our attention, and a video essay.

This video essay includes clips from:


Unfriended [feature film] Levan Gabriadze. Universal Pictures, USA, 2014. 83 mins.
Cyberbully [television film] Ben Chanan. Channel 4, UK. 2015. 62 mins.
Transformers: The Premake [documentary] Kevin B. Lee. USA, 2014. 26 mins.
Internet Story [short film] Adam Butcher. UK, 2010. 10 mins.
Connection Lost, Modern Family [television series] Steven Levitan. 20th Television, USA, 2015. 22 mins.
Noah [short film] Walter Woodman & Patrick Cederberg. Canada, 2013. 17 mins.