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Published 22 February 2012 16:16, Updated 23 February 2012 05:04
On its 20th birthday, short film festival Tropfest again offered filmmakers a shopfront for their talents, showing the young industry is in a good place, experts say.
“The pictures look professional . . . the editing is lucid, the cuts all make sense . . . all that’s put to one side because it’s so good and so well executed, and all that remains is the strength of the idea which is a fantastic place for the younger part of the film industry to be in. They know how to make a movie, it’s just a matter of what have they got to say,” says a lecturer in film and TV at the Victorian College of the Arts, Gus Howard.
This year’s winner, Lemonade Stand, is a quirky tale about a grandfather and his grandson who run a local lemonade stall. Tension enters their happy lives when a dastardly neighbour threatens to put them out of business. Later in the story, the grandad’s low level of personal hygiene plays a pivotal role in an eventual reconciliation, of sorts.
“Lemonade Stand is original, inventive and beautifully crafted, something that all of the best Australian feature films tend to be,” movie magazine FILMINK editor Erin Free says.
“Its sensibility is . . . certainly in line with the independent film scene in the US. I’m sure that director Alethea Jones and screenwriter Tim Potter have seen and liked films such as Napoleon Dynamite and Juno.”
Tropfest is a forum where filmmakers seek to connect with a mainstream audience, rather than hardcore film fans looking to be challenged or pushed, says the editor of film and TV industry title IF Magazine, Brendan Swift.
“Tropfest is all about connecting with the audience, nothing else matters . . . if you don’t connect . . . you are dead,” says Tropfest founder John Polson.
Although it is also screened on pay TV, Tropfest has an outdoor festival feel. As well as the films, much of the action is the thousands of people gathered in Sydney’s Domain and in other locations across Australia, watching films while picnicking and partying into the evening. The party mood of the festival tends to lend itself to comedies, experts say.
“Comedy films seem to do very well at Tropfest and this year’s [winner] was no exception,” says Swift.
This popularity of comedy has begun to flow through in the types of Australian feature films being made. The 2000s were dominated by dramas, yet “none of them really found an audience”, he says.
Years of box office failure, along with federal government agency Screen Australia funding a wider array of films, has created a “mind shift among the industry”, says Swift. Suddenly, thrillers and romantic comedies are back.
Tropfest 2012 reflected this, with films ranging from a military drama with a
sci-fi twist to a documentary about a guy who dances in the streets. Not for the first time, the festival was a wash out in Sydney, with huge storms causing much of the crowd at the Domain to scatter.
There was speculation on Twitter that Boo!, which picked up the Crowd Pleaser Award for the biggest reaction from those watching at the Domain, might have picked up that accolade because it was the first to run – before the rain set in. The film, directed by Rupert Reid, was also the runner-up. It showed an old-aged couple going to significant lengths to amuse each other.
While there’s a big buzz around the night – with Australian film luminaries such as Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman among the judges – success on the night in no way ensures a successful career in film.
“I just think it’s another calling card for a young filmmaker. But there’s no one key which is going to unlock success in this industry, unfortunately,” says Swift.
What is more likely in the future of anyone who succeeds at Tropfest is some time in the US. It’s not just the round trip to Los Angeles to meet film industry executives and agents that comes as part of the first prize, it’s that the US industry tends to offer more freedom and opportunity for young directors.
“In Hollywood they are in a position to afford to be able to lose a little bit of money on something and they will take chances on young new directors and quirky directors, they do it all the time, they have always done it. With 22 million people, that’s not something that we can do,” says Howard.