Dealmaker or dream breaker? Tropfest phenomenon comes down to heart, Polson insists
Has Tropfest got too big for its own good? I speak to organiser John Polson after another wildly successful event in Sydney – which some filmmakers refuse to enter.
In 1993 Tropfest was held at a cafe in front of 200 people. Last night 150,000 people at various locations around Australia, including an estimated 90,000 in Sydney’s Domain, celebrated the 21st birthday of what has become an international phenomenon.
John Polson’s little film festival got very big. Unmanageably and unfairly big, according to some.
It now attracts 700 annual applicants from aspiring filmmakers, Hollywood celebrities, lucrative sponsorship deals and has spawned various foreign spin-offs from Berlin to New York, Toronto, London and Abu Dhabi. Last night’s winner, Victorian Nicholas Clifford, drove away in a new Toyota Corolla with $10,000 prize money, a spiffy new camera and a trip to LA for a week of meetings with film industry executives.
Watch the 16 films this or any year and you’ll see a smattering of famous faces coated in high production values. Successful entries are often financed by production companies, sometimes film funding bodies, and cost as much as $50,000. At the heart of Tropfest lies a huge discrepancy between the reality of the festival as a commercial enterprise and the perception of it as a breeding ground for amateur filmmakers to come good.
“Not once in Tropfest’s 21-year history have I ever said the word ‘amateur’. I’ve never said that [and] this is not about that,” Polson told Crikey this morning. ”In terms of (increasing) budgets, I won’t pretend that’s not true. But I’ve never said we’re going to discriminate against big budgets.”