Tropfest leads Australia’s short film festivals. From its Tropicana cafe beginnings to today’s glitz and glamour Sydney has loved it all the way.
As a young actor, in 1993, John Polson needed to create work for himself when offers weren’t coming in from outside.
So he and a few friends got together in the Tropicana, a Sydney Darlinghurst cafe where they all hung out, to see what could be done.
And the idea of a short film contest was born.
Short Film Contests
The films they made that first year were shown at the Tropicana.
It went pretty well, people liked the idea and it was decided to do it again the next year.
To make sure that entrants wouldn’t come along with a film they’d previously made, each film had to show, somewhere in it, a signature item. The first year it was a muffin.
Later, when the cafe got too small, viewers spilled into the road outside.
For a few hours big screens and plastic chairs took the place of traffic.
When even that became too crowded the whole short film festival, by now known as Tropfest, was moved to the Domain where it promptly became one of Sydney’s go-to evenings for thousands of film lovers.
It has now moved again, this time to Parramatta Park in Sydney’s west.
It’s casual, it’s fun and it’s free. It’s always held in February, usually towards the middle of the month. Check their website for details.
Today Tropfest is Australia’s largest and best known short film festival. It has had its share of ups and downs but it’s still going strong.
- It attracts over 70,000 people to its open-air festival each year
- it now includes a Trop Jr category for filmmakers aged 15 and under
- it leads to international opportunities for the successful short film makers, and
- it still requires a unique signature object to be included each year – a gherkin, a match, a bubble.
With the move to Parramatta Park Tropfest has become a longer festival. It’s still free and now includes the very family oriented Trop Jr. Here you’ll discover short films from the 16 Trop Jr finalists.
The Tropfest main event also has 16 finalists. Their films start rolling from around 2000 (8 pm), once it gets dark. Before that you will be entertained by live bands and performers of all kinds, and will likely also see some of the films that have won in previous years.
Reserve a Seat
If you don’t want to scramble for a spot, or to arrive with hours to spare, then you can Pick Your Patch – reserve a seat – in one of two areas. Each guarantees you a good view, access to an exclusive bar and various other addons.
On Screen & Online
There should be live webcasts on the internet. You may even find it being shown in cafés around the inner city.
And pretty much all of the finalists can be found on YouTube, where Tropfest is one of the most watched channels.
So there are many ways to get to see these under 7 minute movies.
The very best, if you’re in Sydney on the day, is to take the train for the half hour journey to Parramatta for the final viewing and judging.
The main event free short films start around dusk – usually 2000 (8pm) – but people will be arriving, with their picnics, to stake out the best spots when the grounds open around 1130 (11.30am). Food stalls open at noon.
Expect celebrities. They’re always there. Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Naomi Watts are always possibilities.
And many more – I don’t really have my ear to the ground on celebrities, but they turn up year after year.
As short film festivals go, this is one of the best.
Finalists demonstrate excellent short film ideas and scripts and there are usually some very good comedy short films in the final cut.
It’s certainly the best known, and winning it is the dream launch pad for young filmmakers.
Don’t miss it if you’re in Sydney when it’s on, in February.
And if you prefer longer film formats, but still want the outdoor experience, have a look at these open air cinema venues.
Also in February
Another much loved Sydney celebration is Chinese New Year. Most years this falls in February.