The 24th Tropfest nearly didn’t happen, but we are certainly glad that it did. The world’s largest short film festival began in a cafe just over two decades and has grown into the biggest launching pad for new filmmakers. The heritage of Tropfest means something and its crafty continuation is very welcome.
The hosts Marc Fennell, Adam Spencer and Jeanette Francis run a very slick show with little fuss. There’s no padding or extraneous spotlights. It’s down to business and down to films. They acknowledge the good and the bad and make the experience a lot of fun. The theme that must be included every year is ‘card’ and appropriately, despite incoming rain, the entire set was made of card.
Australian celebrities were out in force to allow organisers to name-check. Mel Gibson, Simon Baker, Rebecca Gibney, Natalie Bassingthwaite, Melissa Doyle and Matt Oakine were amongst the packed-out crowd. Cult documentary Gayby Baby director Maya Uhlmann was also in attendance.
THE SIXTEEN FINALISTS
Postcards to Ulay – A bittersweet tale of a canine cosmonaut and his Siberian owner that immediately drove home the power of short film, especially at Tropfest. It represented the breadth of issues that can be addressed in the format through cool animation and a smart voice-over rhyme. As a dog person, it kicked off the night with a tug on my heartstrings. Voted second place overall.
Tay-Man – Hell yes! A profile piece on five middle aged men that head off to their Man Cave each Friday night. Their common ground? The life and tunes of superstar Taylor Swift. They rank her boyfriends, watch her Twitter in real-time and collectively enjoy her albums. Every good short film has a twist, and Tay-Man delivers when the obsession effects one of the boys’ real life. Very cool and very likely the real-life Swift will publicly endorse it.
Ben’s Filming The Movie – A few films this year took things in a very serious direction. Ben’s Filming the Movie found the right balance to get autism awareness across in a cheerful way. References are aplenty, though its the Back to the Future scene recreations and Ben’s idolisation of his teacher propel endear the film.
Waste of Time – If JJ Abrams took a time travel adventure to a Sydney basement this is what it would look like. The short film looks like an expensive Hollywood film and constantly reminds me of Chronicle (even though that is about telekenisis and this is about time travel). Maybe that’s intentional, as the main character’s future business is called Chronicle. Very, very serious monologues about future timelines that culminates in an admittedly obvious twist. Then, out of nowhere, the REAL twist drops and blows your mind. Fantastic execution of a brilliant idea. One of the best.
The ATM – A playful conversation between two beginner criminals about who to mug and what knife to use. Stretched to the limits of its bounds, with an ending that doesn’t zing half as well as Waste of Time. That’s not the ATM’s fault though, and I’m clearly in the majority, as it came in third overall and recieved the award for Best Actor.
Into the Malestrom – Documentaries in Tropfest are odd to me. There’s nothing to say they can’t happen and there is nothing to say that they cannot win, but there was no twist that differentiated this from something that would air on The Project. In saying that, the band the piece is about would not be marketable enough for The Project, so it’s a win for indies.
Shiny – Stop-motion is an artform that must be respected. It’s exhausting to even imagine the length of time it took to meticulously create each frame (every second divided by 24). It’s a novel boy meets girl story backed by some cute instrumental and their own version of Simglish, in which the own discernable word is the film’s title. Ultimately the charming man wins her heart by retrieving a “shiny” diamond from the men that robbed her, and they all live happily ever after. It has Tropfest in its DNA and as a result won this year’s Best Picture.
Hardball – A short film has the luxury of taking a concept and stretching it to its limitations. Hardball finds the lines but never oversteps, as two dads end up one-upping each other over and over while supervising their children. The conversation turns to handball and after a heated argument a (handball) battle breaks out, causing an explosion that lands both men in jail. The dialogue is superb and the visual jokes – such as both men being the same height – raise the quality. The weakest point was the visual effects, but realistically, Tropfest was never about the visual effects.
Stella – Two men at a bar have a hard conversation about an affair, with one not quite getting it until later in the piece. It’s another example of smart dialogue and killer comedic acting. The whole thing was done in one shot from Wyrmwood director Kiah Roche-Turner. There’s not too much else to say about Stella, except that it is classic Tropfest and worth a watch.
Angie – Other people liked Angie, but it jarred for me. It didn’t feel like Tropfest, maybe because of its realness. Uplifting, sure, but it never hooked me like twelve of the other films.
Why Would I Lie – Tonight’s high-brow piece ultilised big-name Australian actress Natalie Bassingthwaite in interesting ways. In one scene, the lead character is immobilised and cannot move. In the next, he’s inside a coffin conversing with his conscience. In another, he’s embracing his wife inside the same coffin. And in another, he’s drowning, trapped. It’s edited hyperactively and played like a mystery thriller. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, and the junkie reveal was as impactful as the director intended. Kudos.
Identical – A return to the Tropfest stalwart of the parody profile. This time the spotlight is on two identical twins and the people that surround them. The twins, much like the feature, have no boundaries and push the awkwardness factor to eleven. The supporting characters are great in this – from the oddball neighbour, the shared mail-order bride and their friendly neighbour. Twists can make or break a Tropfest film and this one lands effortlessly.
Wish You Here – A very arty look at the zombie apocalypse. A few chuckles throughout.
Jeff Harding – A true story about Australian boxer champion Jeff Harding and his battle with alcoholism. An extended profile piece that never twisted or turned, and was lacking impact playing after Why Would I Lie.
Pinata – After the seven minute epic previous it was almost disorientating to see so many bright colours swirl around the screen and disappear within ninety seconds. Pinata takes a funny idea, amplifies it, and pushes it one step further and cuts to black. The quickest film of Tropfest that still left an impact.
Drawcard – Ending the night on a high, although didn’t recieve any awards. A lengthy (by Tropfest standards) office comedy that scores every goal. Engaging and entertaining from start to finish. The script was great, the actors were great, and certainly one of the standouts of the night. ABC should greenlight a short series for these folk, not necessarily set in an office. Adding “butterfly” to the credits was masterstroke.
One thing to love about Australia is the length of our ceremonies. We just get down to business. Even the acceptance speeches were under two minutes, making the whole thing a breezy affair. Simon Baker spoke to underrepresentation of women in the acting categories (which is true) which prompted Maya Uhlmann to speak to the underrepresentation in the directing finalists (there was only one).
Rick Donald – The ATM
Natalie Bassingthwaite – Why Would I Lie
3rd Place – The ATM
2nd Place – Postcards to Ulay
1st Place – Shiny