Tropfest 2001

By Dust For Eyes
Posted 02/28/01 22:52:33

A film about sport's biggest event wins at the world's biggest short film festival. Tropfest - the big-ass one-night outdoor short film festival attracting a Sydney audience of somewhere between 85,000 and a bitching lot of people - gave it's top honour to a film expressing one person's view of Olympics hype. In short, that the Olympic Torch Relay sucked - Awesome! As with past Tropfests, the events surrounding the films were just as entertaining as the films themselves.

Although the films started at 8pm, entertainment began five hours earlier to occupy the minds of the do-gooders with sensible haircuts who turned up early to get the best spots. They hogged the view of the three large screens in The Domain on the edge of Sydney's CBD. Screens were also set up in cafés around town (and around the country and the world via a webcast) including the Tropicana Café - the birthplace of the festival, but now far too small to host the event which is now a major Sydney event.

Entertainment included bands, DJs, the screening of past Tropfest winners, and people dressed in silly animal suits. A couple of those people in the suits were actually previous Tropfest Best Comedy winners. They were perhaps giving an ominous warning to future winners in what can happen to you if you are dazzled by the sex-addled success of Tropfest and totally blow the cash and production time vouchers on unfinished projects, trying to impress your friends and bad drugs.

The weather was overcast and threatened rain, but thankfully no heavenly interruptions eventuated. Indeed the clouds were welcome as it kept the temperatures down, prevented any melting in the sun and alcohol ODs. Well maybe an OD or two would have been funny.

The festival featured sixteen finalists (including two animations) from a total of 568 entries. That's up on the 400 or so entries last year, reflecting how the festival is growing like a rash on the Crown Street Brothel regulars.

The festival's history has shown that to make an impact with the audience in the 7 minute time limit, comedy is the way to go. Again this year the festival was dominated by comedies, but the dramas that made the final cut were special. The best being the rather touching The Art of Farewell.

It told the story of an old Jewish man visiting a grumble bum tattooist. As the film unfolded we learnt that the tattoo was not for the man, but for his deceased wife - to cover the Nazi registration number tattoo with a colourful butterfly. With touching performances from David Clendenning and Damien Garvey, this endearing film fully deserved its Best Screenplay award for Buck Buckingham.

Now, fart jokes are not funny - Puerile, vulgar, and distasteful.

Unless you get some Hollywood heavyweights like Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, then they're hilarious.

That was the thinking behind Steve Baker's The Cutting Room Floor - One of the two animation films that made the final 16. The film purported to show out takes from films like Taxi Driver, Unforgiven, and The Graduate and all the bottom trumpet hilarity that went on during the making of these cinema classics.

You couldn't help laughing during this terribly silly film and all its bum burping buffoonery. I don't think I'll look at one of Clint Eastwood's tired old grimaces in quite the same way ever again.

The other animation was Chopper - a kids cartoon version of the feature film of the same name. The original featured grisly murders, drug addiction including a pregnant woman hooked on heroin, the snorting of cocaine, slashing off of a person's ears, knee capping with a shot gun, and a guy exposing his penis to a woman in a bar. How on earth do you put all that in a children's cartoon!?

Easy, thinks Bernard Derriman - Give them cute smiles, funny sound effects and kids songs! This outrageous short was a flash animation film and other work can be found at

The outrageous theme was continued in Matthew Gidney's A Day At The Zoo. In a film that must have been an exploration of penis envy (I don't know what the hell else it could have been about), it showed computer animated giant penises as if they were a zoo exhibit. What kind of a sick mind thinks up these things?

I was also not sure about the minds behind Burn where political correctness was thrown out the window. A woman makes a false accusation of rape, but the accused has the perfect defence that provided the punch line of the film. False rape accusations for a basis of comedy? This film is dangerous to know.

Unlike every other film awards presentation in the history of the universe ever, the Tropfest awards ceremony is actually interesting to watch. In fact, it's hilarious and sometimes even funnier than the films screening in competition. This is down to John Polson.

Festival Director and founder, Polson was in films like The Boys, The Sum Of Us (where he got to kiss Russell Crowe) and M:I2. It's Polson's enthusiasm, good-natured humour and the sense that he is almost, but not quite totally out of his depth that makes Tropfest what it is today. Not only is it an important bridge from amateur to professional film making success and a promotion of the love of film - but also a major event that literally thousands will turn up to see and be inspired.

For the prize giving this infectious as botulism enthusiasm came across as Polson attempted to make jokes (sometimes even successfully), thanked sponsors, the film makers and the audience - over and over and over again. As Ewan MacGregor pointed out in Tropfest 2000, Polson is mad for it.

To the winners then, and it was Patrick Hughes' The Lighter - about the running over of an Olympic Torch relay runner - that took top honours. It got one of the best reactions with the audience and it followed the usual Tropfest format by being a comedy sketch with a big punch line at the end.

Best actress went to Julia Zemiro for the second time for the film Muffled Love while Sam Worthington (currently being a big shot in Prague working on a Bruce Willis film) took out the best actor award for A Matter of Life.

The films were judged by local talent including Toni Collette and Rachel Ward. The latter who knows her short films having recently directed a short film shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Collette and Ward along with a few other local stars helped Polson in making the event seem like a delightful shambles. I was left giggling during some of Polson's alcohol-induced frivolity.

While up to five months was spent on some of the films, others were seat of the pants film making with some films made in an afternoon for the price of a couple of cups of tea. The organised shambles nature of the festival and the DIY nature of the films are a refreshing antidote to the ultra-mega-mecha budget Hollywood films. It is truly an inspiring event - making you want to grab that camera and know that all you need for a great film is simply great ideas.

So that was Tropfest - a big night out for Sydney, an important avenue of promotion for our young film-makers and an event to inspire us all.

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