Humorous, heartbreaking, satirical — The New Yorker’s iconic covers have provided us with social commentary since the magazine published its first issue in 1925. Among the topics captured in these illustrated works of art: our relationship with our smartphones.
To further explore the smartphone’s growing impact on the world, Qualcomm collaborated with TNY Studio, The New Yorker’s branded content unit. Three of the magazine’s covers featuring the device were chosen as the inspiration for a series of original short films. “Smartphone Stories” debuted at this year’s New Yorker Festival, screening before many of the conversations, panels, and performances.
“The series is a celebration of the smartphone and its significance in people’s lives,” explained Qualcomm Technologies Senior Director of Global Brand Liya Sharif. “This project has multiple layers: There are the artists who created the covers, the filmmakers who interpreted those covers, and then underneath it all, there’s Qualcomm who invented the technology that makes the smartphone so indispensable.”
Bringing the covers to life
The three New Yorker covers were selected for their storytelling potential. The directors were tasked with bringing them to life. Each was given complete creative freedom and license to develop their narratives, whether that meant imagining the moment before what was depicted on the cover or establishing backstories for the characters. Original musical scores and scripts were written for the films. While each offers a unique approach, all are a variation on a common theme: The smartphone occupies a singular place in our lives.
“City Symphony,” a film by Lucy Walker
The film is based on illustrator Christoph Niemann’s August 9, 2010 “Dropped Call” cover. The short was directed by award-winning British filmmaker Lucy Walker. Walker chose to transform the illustration into an homage to New York and New Yorkers. Shot documentary style, the film captures the happenings at a New York City public pool from open to close on a hot summer’s day. “City Symphony” highlights the city’s diversity and the different ways people use their phone every day.
“Enchanted Forest,” a film by Emily Carmichael
“Enchanted Forest,” which was illustrated by Niemann as well, is directed by Emily Carmichael, a director, screenwriter, and animator whose films have been screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, Sundance, and SXSW. Carmichael focuses her beautifully animated fairytale-like film on the cover’s main character, a girl using her smartphone’s flashlight to read at night. When a wily fox steals her book, her smartphone takes on the role of sidekick on her journey to retrieve it.
“Screen Time,” a film by Peter Huang
Director and screenwriter Peter Huang is no stranger to films about tech. His short “5 Films About Technology” is a satirical look at “people staring into screens.” In “Screen Time,” based on the September 4, 2017 cover drawn by Bruce Eric Kaplan, Huang explores the smartphone as an existentialist, questioning its purpose.
Putting the “smart” in “smartphone”
Today, 7 billion people around the world are connected, but this certainly wasn’t the case 20 years ago when the smartphone first emerged. Today, many of the features we love about our smartphones — the ability to stream video, navigate with GPS, capture memories, share photos, play games, browse the internet, and post our thoughts instantaneously — are enabled by Qualcomm inventions.
“Smartphone Stories” is an expression of the many reasons why we love our phones. In addition to screening the films, a gallery of 10 New Yorker covers featuring the smartphone were on display at one of the festival’s venues. The covers exhibited date back to September 13, 2004; “Déja Vu” by Istvan Banyai is a haunting recollection of the Twin Towers.
For over 90 years, The New Yorker has documented American culture, from the era-defining moments to the minutiae of our daily lives. Included in this rich history is one of the most important devices ever invented: the smartphone. Together with TNY Studio, we celebrate the smartphone and the many Qualcomm technologies that make it the indispensable device it’s become.