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Film festivals are an integral part of the modern entertainment world: in Sydney they cover everything from Spanish, French, queer, Jewish and other ethnic/cultural offerings through to the Sydney Film Festival, which showcases new work from all over the world.
Sydney also has Tropfest, which advertises itself as 'The world's largest short film festival' and invites 'filmmakers of all backgrounds and levels of experience to get out there and start shooting a short film' for its festival: the films can be about anything, but must include that year's Tropfest Signature Item. Signature items in the past have included a muffin, a coffee bean, an umbrella, a kiss, chopsticks, a sneeze and a bug. For 2008, the Tropfest signature item was '8'.
Tropfest is a relatively recent arrival on the film festival scene. It was in the early 1990s that John Polson approached the proprietor of the Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, to screen his short film Surry Hills: 902 Spring Roll, for cast, crew and friends. The film drew 200 people, and encouraged Polson to set up a festival for 'short films'. In 1993 the Tropicana Short Film Festival, as it was then called, was born, when nine short films were shown.
Over the years, the popularity of the festival has grown, and is seen as a product of the creative classes of Kings Cross, an area long home to much of the city's artistic and bohemian communities. Now, with the vast resources of the Sony Corporation behind it – especially their marketing juggernaut – literally hundreds of filmmakers are inspired to go out and create their 'cinematic art', with a view to getting a showing in Tropfest.
In the festival's sixteenth screening in 2008, there were over 600 films entered, and an audience in excess of 150,000 at screenings spanning the nation. The finalist films were selected from more than 700 entries at venues in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Hobart, as well as a selection of regional venues across Australia.
In addition to the large number of entries from film students and semi-professional entrants, Tropfest continues to attract short films from hobby filmmakers of all ages. The festival's youngest director ever was aged just six, and at the other end of the spectrum, a 78-year-old director/producer, along with a cast of actors from a retirement home, has proved that it's never too late.
The event now attracts keen interest from some of the biggest names in the international film community, and John Polson, whose first Australian feature, the black comedy Siam Sunset, was selected for Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 but flopped badly on its local cinema release, has become an Australian success story in Hollywood, largely because of the impact of Tropfest.
Tropfest website, www.tropfest.com, accessed 21 November 2010