Tropfest 2008 Uncut

February 20, 2008

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I was interviewed in the new issue of Filmink about John Polson’s Tropfest. While you have to respect how it’s grown and the publicity it provides to it’s winners, I raised some other issues in the interview.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think its a good event with a strong International Profile, etc., But it could now move in a direction more towards cinematic authenticity, daring and originality and away from the Advertising or Benny Hill gag reel some entries have been in the past.

I did not see the 2008 broadcast, but Michelle Lehman’s film about a young girl chasing a schoolboy around the school yard won best film for “Marry Me”. So congrats to her, I hope it was good. I’ll try and catch up with somewhere and file a report.

Regarding the Filmink interview. My answers were edited (naturally), so here are my answers (in full and uncut) to Brian Duff’s Questions (why not it’s my blog?!):

Q. Does Tropfest have a role to play in the market,either by shining a light on talented filmmakers or as a training ground for actors, directors, dops, screenwriters, etc?

RW. Sure, any film festival that encourages movies and
movie makers is a good thing in some senses. Period.
The best way to learn how to make films is to actually
make them. So, Tropfest does contribute to this
regardless of content.

Q. Was Tropfest ever indie? Did it stray from that? If
so, how far, and is that to its detriment? Do
celebrities, big crowds, revelry take away from it in
some way?

RW. It started Indy and then went mega to its detriment, I
believe. Basically, I think Tropfest is a commercially
driven prescriptive “filmmaking by the numbers”
competition… that part is unfortunately bullshit. The
problem is that you have to include a flame or a dildo or something silly like
that. It’s advertising language and speak. Include a carton of milk or tin of spaghetti and lets move some product! The skill sets it develops may be fruitful for advertising but for cinema or even short cinema? Not so much…

Not to say that some entries are not good cinema. Its just
the tasks, milieu and environment the festival sets is
like a festival for TV ads. That is fine in itself. Serious works of cinema are
few and far between at Tropfest, I imagine. I speak
generally of course there are exceptions that prove
the rule. Also, how many of the winners have gone on
to make great features or docos or other cool shorts?
MUFF I wager has an equal or better track record for discovering or fostering
real talent like James Wan, Scott Ryan, Mark Savage, Stuart Simpson, Jason Turley and many others than that over hyped celebrity gob fest known to you all as Tropfest.

Q. Do its winners have to go on to make great features
for the festival to be relevant? You seem to think so;
what do you expect from upcoming films like Black
Balloon (Elissa Down) and The Tender Hook (Jonathan
Ogilvie), for example?

RW. Yes. Surely, that’s its raison d’etre? To discover new talent was its
original purpose? Talented people like Gregor Jordan and Nash Edgerton have gone through its mill and that’s a darn good thing if it helped them along their way. I
know nothing of Black Balloon and The Tender Hook does
sound interesting with Hugo Weaving set in the 1920’s.
I can’t comment until I see the work. But of course it will produce some good filmmakers and that is a good thing.

Q. Do you see Tropfest as a viable and/or important
filmmaking initiative; as more and more filmmakers
create Trop projects, does that provide a service
for the industry and for arts in general?

RW. It’s over sold as an event ‘bread and
circuses’ to placate the media hype machine. Most
entries are based around gags, technique and
advertising style tropes. This breeds feature
filmmakers who are equally as inane as TV ads. Tropfest has its
place but it should be seen as part of a network of
festivals that show good work like MIFF, SIFF, BIFF
but also Revelation, MUFF and now SUFF. These later
festivals should also get more credit for showing
innovative and truly daring programs and new cinema
without silly gimmicks and overt celebrity
shenanigans.

Q. Has Tropfest strayed from its indie roots and
gone too corporate (betraying constituency, etc)?

RW. Yes, sure. Tropfest is not all bad, of course. It has a
carnival atmosphere that is fun, large crowds and is based in
Sydney… that needs all the culture it can get! I also have no problem with its Populism…more Australian feature cinema should be so.

Q. Tropfest films are often labelled as cookie-cutter in
some way. Is that a fair complaint, if so, why do you
think they have become so of a type?

RW. Yes of course it is cookie cutter. This is the main
problem. If you can’t formulate a slick ad style short
with gags, humour and flashy emptiness you stand a
good chance of not even being selected for the main
program. Regardless of who directed it. Sometimes
these traits are good in cinema but rarely without any
story, ideas or philosophical/ideological substance.
Unfortunately, Tropfest tends to play into the hands
of the nihilistic emptiness and cultural waste land
that is our present reality. Rather than flip the dominant paradigm with real subversiveness… it reinforces it with cash in hand mediocrity and acquiescence.

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