How Tropfest ‘changed the DNA’ of our short film industry

Posted February 14, 2018 07:00:00

When John Polson climbed onto a wobbly chair in Sydney’s Tropicana Caffe in late 1992, he unknowingly ignited an idea that would inspire a nationwide interest in short films.

“I was buzzing, people were applauding,” Polson recalls.

As the credits rolled after a screening of his short film Cafe, the excitement of a surprise crowd got the best of him.

“I got up and said ‘hey guys, what a great night, let’s have a festival. Get your movies to me, let’s do this’,” he says.

“It was really that simple.”

Over the next quarter of a century, Tropfest made short films part of Australia’s cultural vocabulary, with hundreds of new films made for the festival each year.

Filmmaking was ‘like a drug deal’

Filmmaking has always been expensive — but for up-and-coming filmmakers, this was especially so in the days before camcorders.

The cost of equipment and film stock throttled creativity, and institutions played a major role in what audiences saw from local filmmakers. Cultural barriers were the norm.

Adam Zwar, co-creator of Wilfred — a short film that was crowned best comedy at Tropfest 2002 — knew these challenges well.

“It was like a drug deal. If you had a contact at Kodak, a guy on Saturday morning would drive around, you’d throw him a thousand bucks, and [he’d] give you film offcuts for ‘cheap’,” Zwar says.

“There were a lot of hurdles.”

But the handheld camcorder changed everything.

Suddenly, aspiring movie directors had inexpensive tools to demonstrate their ideas and potential.

Tropfest gave this untapped well of filmmakers a platform — and a deadline.

“Nothing creative is done without a deadline,” Zwar says.

“And it’s often better if someone else is giving you one.”

Polson recalls an early conversation with Mad Max director George Miller, that helped him see what he’d created.

“[He] kind of got it almost before I did. He said, ‘this is a big deal. You’ve got people who are not getting into the institutions, but have this talent. It might be a good way to see who’s around in Australia’,” Polson recalls.

Zwar was obsessed with getting into Tropfest for this exact reason. Festival success in 2002 put him on the ground floor of the screen industry.

“For a lot of filmmakers who didn’t have the opportunities, it was a light on the hill,” Zwar says.

“It was total meritocracy — if you had a good idea, there was a chance you might just make it, and you could kick-start your career.”

Crowds connect with emerging filmmakers

Tropfest initially centred around the Darlinghurst cafe, Tropicana, where it started. But it quickly ran out of space as surrounding footpaths and streets were closed off, filling with punters.

When a basic overflow venue was set up at a nearby park in 1997, it revealed the festival’s true audience potential.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Polson says.

“There were thousands of people. It was a very different vibe; sitting on the grass, BYO. It just became this social event bigger than what it had started as.”

Just a few years on, Tropfest had claimed its place on the cultural calendar.

It moved to The Domain in 1999, where an audience of 90,000 to 100,000 people enjoyed its unique atmosphere. Satellite screenings ran in capital cities around the country, and free DVDs came with Sunday newspapers.

The unapologetically populist festival found critical mass.

The result: short films by emerging filmmakers were being seen.

“We offer an audience. And an audience is an important part of a career progression. Maybe they rub shoulders with people who can finance their next movie,” Polson says, of finalists.

Alethea Jones, who won the competition in 2012, says back at film school, she was guilty of being a Tropfest snob.

“The criticism from my friends was that Tropfest is considered more of a lighter and more commercial film festival and not a heavy hitter,” Jones says.

“But I have screened at those other festivals, and they didn’t do anything for my career. Tropfest is what you make of it.”

Jones’s first Hollywood feature, Fun Mom Dinner (2017), starred Toni Collette, who was a judge when she won in 2012.

She’s said to be directing the Sony/Mattel Barbie movie, starring Anne Hathaway.

“I’m now working as a director, directly because of Tropfest,” Jones says.

A launch pad for talent

In a 25-plus year history, Tropfest has experienced highs and lows, including financial problems that almost led to the festival’s cancellation in 2015.

But it’s helped countless talented creatives carve a career path that wasn’t possible before its existence.

Along with Zwar and Jones, names including Rebel Wilson, Nash and Joel Edgerton, Sam Worthington and Paul Fenech were all marked by Tropfest, as they worked toward success in film and television.

Wilson also won best actress at Tropfest 2009 for Bargain!

“We don’t create their talent,” Polson says.

“But anyone who thinks Tropfest didn’t impact that world wasn’t watching. We changed the DNA of the industry.

“At it’s best, it’s just this euphoric celebration of what’s coming up in Australian film.”

Tropfest airs on ABC Comedy on February 17, and after on iView.

Topics: short-film, film-movies, carnivals-and-festivals, events, director, arts-and-entertainment, sydney-2000, australia

Sarah Jessica Parker’s Divorce co-star defends ‘kind’ actress after Kim Cattrall take-down

Updated February 13, 2018 14:43:16

Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker has been praised by actress Molly Shannon, days after being labelled “cruel” by former colleague Kim Cattrall.

Shannon said she felt lucky to work with Parker on the HBO comedy Divorce and described her as “genuinely supportive and kind”.

Her comments came after Cattrall — who played Samantha Jones alongside Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City during the ’90s — took to Instagram to label the actress a “hypocrite”.

Shannon, however, painted a different picture of Parker during an interview with Entertainment Tonight at New York Fashion Week on Saturday.

“I didn’t read about that,” Shannon said, regarding Cattrall’s post.

“But I know, for me, Sarah is just so supportive and so wonderful and we just get along so well.

“It doesn’t really feel like work because we have so much in common, and she loves funny women and is just so genuinely supportive and kind, and, like, a girls’ girl.”

Although it is believed the relationship between Parker and Cattrall has been strained for years, their feud was made public this week after Parker offered condolences following the sudden death of Cattrall’s brother.

“I can’t begin to know how her family is managing such a loss,” Parker said in a red carpet interview.

Cattrall responded on Instagram, saying she did not need Parker’s support and accused her of exploiting her family’s tragedy.

Christopher Cattrall, 55, was found dead last week after going missing from his home in Lacombe in Canada on January 30.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, television, film-movies, united-states

First posted February 13, 2018 14:18:29

Rake’s Cleaver Greene returns — as the face of a CPR campaign

Updated February 13, 2018 09:24:05

The cast of the hit TV show Rake has joined a campaign to promote CPR, with a short film about a juror suffering a cardiac arrest seeing actor Richard Roxburgh reprise his role of Cleaver Greene.

In the ad, launched this week, the unconventional barrister rushes to the aid of the juror to the music of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive, while others in the courtroom explain how to administer CPR.

The unusual concept for the campaign, titled Shock Verdict, was pushed by Tasmanian heart specialist Dr Paul MacIntyre, who is a long-time fan of the show and reached out to Roxburgh to donate his time.

“He struck me as someone who would be able to do it,” Roxburgh said.

“He was ballsy enough to come and suggest it in the first place. He had energy and he was committed.”

Roxburgh is joined in the ad by actress Kate Box, who plays his secretary Nicole in Rake, and who, in keeping with the theme of the show, takes control of the situation and helps save the juror.

Cardiac arrest fast facts:

  • Only 10 per cent of the estimated 20,000 Australians who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year survive
  • Three out of every four cardiac arrests in Australia occur at home
  • For each minute after the onset of a witnessed cardiac arrest, there is a 10 per cent reduction in survival if no CPR is given
  • Providing hard chest compressions can double a person’s chance of survival.
  • Using a defibrillator can increase survival rates by 40 per cent
  • Defibrillation within 3-5 minutes can produce survival rates as high as 70 per cent

Source: Shock Verdict CPR campaign

The campaign has a personal side for Roxburgh after a friend died from a cardiac arrest a few years ago.

“I thought even if we save a few lives from this [it will be worth it],” Roxburgh said.

“Hopefully it’s a lot more than that.”

Dr MacIntyre is the director of cardiology at the Royal Hobart Hospital and said a bystander providing CPR to someone suffering a cardiac arrest could dramatically increase their chance of survival.

It is estimated only 10 per cent of the more than 20,000 Australians who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year survive.

Dr MacIntyre said providing CPR — and knowing how to use a defibrillator — were essential skills people should learn.

“The key message in this campaign is that people should do something rather than nothing. Every minute counts,” he said.

A global initiative

The campaign follows a similar initiative in the UK, where “hard man” actor Vinnie Jones fronts a CPR campaign that also uses the theme of Stayin’ Alive.

It has been watched millions of times online and the organisers of the Australian campaign — which includes the Heart Foundation and the Australian Resuscitation Council — are hoping for similar impact here.

“You know, I realised I didn’t know myself the correct procedure,” Roxburgh said of administering CPR.

“[We want] to bring CPR into the public domain more, and I thought it just seemed like such a great idea.”

Topics: health, heart-disease, arts-and-entertainment, australia

First posted February 13, 2018 09:13:04

Barack Obama praises wife Michelle’s ‘hotness’ as official portraits unveiled

Updated February 13, 2018 06:53:51

Former United States president Barack Obama joked about his ears and grey hair and praised his wife Michelle Obama’s “hotness” at the unveiling of the couple’s official portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The Obamas tapped artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the paintings, which will be added to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of presidential portraits.

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.

For his portrait by Wiley, Mr Obama is depicted sitting in a brown chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colourful flowers.

Ms Obama’s painting shows her sitting with one hand under her chin and the other draped across her lap, while wearing a long flowing dress decorated with geometric shapes.

Mr Obama, who was the first African-American US president, complimented Sherald for her portrait.

“I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love,” Mr Obama said.

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was “less becoming”.

“I tried to negotiate less grey hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Mr Obama said.

“I tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”

The Obamas both expressed awe at their portraits, noting that they were the first people in their families to ever sit for an official painting.

Ms Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of colour in the years ahead.

“They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” she said.

“I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

The Portrait Gallery’s tradition of commissioning presidential portraits began with former president George HW Bush.

Other portraits were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other means.


Topics: visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, painting, united-states

First posted February 13, 2018 06:51:22

People are boycotting Peter Rabbit over allergy ‘bullying’ scene

Posted February 11, 2018 13:55:37

An Australian allergy awareness group is calling for Sony Pictures to apologise its for depiction of “blatant food allergy bullying” in the upcoming film Peter Rabbit.

Key points:

  • The film includes a scene where a character is intentionally attacked with allergen, causing anaphylaxis
  • Organisations call it ‘socially irresponsible’, want Sony Pictures to apologise
  • Authorities say making light of serious allergies could be harmful to community

The film was released in the US last week and according to America’s Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (KFA), it includes a scene where a character is intentionally attacked with his allergen, which leads to anaphylaxis.

Australian group Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity (Globalaai) has created a petition asking Sony Pictures to apologise, saying the scene is socially irresponsible.

“This mocks the seriousness of allergic disease and is heartbreakingly disrespectful to the families of those that have lost loved ones to anaphylaxis,” the petition reads.

“To spread a message that condones such victimising and dangerous behaviour amongst children is grossly offensive to worldwide viewers, especially those who live with severe allergic disease.”

The hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit has also kicked off on social media.

According to the National Allergy Strategy, allergic diseases are among the fastest-growing chronic conditions in Australia — affecting one in five people.

Globalaai is encouraging parents to talk to their children about the scene and the seriousness of food allergies.

“Given that this movie is aimed at children, to see a character being intentionally attacked with the allergen that they’re allergic to has been really disturbing worldwide, not only for the allergy community but also for parents,” Globalaai founder Dr Pooja Newman said.

“We have a serious problem in our community with a lack of understanding and a lack of appreciation that allergies can be instantaneously life threatening and many children have died all over the world from accidental exposure to food allergens.”

“Unfortunately, I believe the Peter Rabbit movie is sending a message that food allergies are not necessarily to be taken seriously and that food allergy bullying is something that is OK.”

Dr Newman said she has been encouraged by the response the petition has received.

Sony Pictures have not responded to the petition.

Authorities warn not to joke about serious allergies

KFA said jokes about food allergies could be harmful to the community.

“During a reaction, patients require the life-saving drug epinephrine and must go to the nearest hospital for follow-up treatment,” it said.

KFA said the fear and anxiety experienced during an allergic reaction is very serious.

“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger,” it said.

Sony Pictures has been contacted for comment.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, film-movies, allergies, diseases-and-disorders, health, community-and-society, family-and-children, children, children—preschoolers, children—toddlers, food-safety, food-poisoning, united-states, australia

Writing tips from four Aussie authors and a New Yorker veteran

Updated February 09, 2018 08:46:23

“If it interests me it goes in and if it doesn’t interest me it stays out … that’s a rather rude criterion, but I don’t have any other.”

Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee began writing non-fiction for the New Yorker in 1963, and started teaching writing at Princeton in 1975, so it’s safe to say he’s speaking from experience.

McPhee, the author of a new memoir and writing guide titled Draft No. 4, has advice for everything from beating writer’s block to structuring your work.

First up, he suggests you start at the beginning and nail what journalists call the lede.

“Get out of your head and write a beginning that you like … write something that works for you,” he says.

Then it’s time to plan. McPhee is big on planning.

“Turn back and look at your vast matrix of material and start cutting it up and figuring out the structure and so forth,” he says.

His new book isn’t just filled with words of writerly wisdom. It also includes strange little diagrams that look like basic equations, which McPhee regularly uses to plan his work.

“When I go into my office and start tearing my hair [out] trying to advance a piece of writing I’m working on, I know precisely where I am and what I’m trying to do that day and there’s nothing between me and the screen, except air,” he says.

“It can make things sound mechanical… but it also frees the writer to write.”

Getting un-stuck

Despite all that planning, McPhee sometimes gets stuck. He once lay on a picnic table for two weeks trying to figure out how to begin a piece for the New Yorker.

But he has his methods for overcoming writer’s block. His advice to one student struggling to begin was to pen a letter to your mother and write out your frustration.

“Dear mother, I am trying to write about Alaska and an encounter with a grizzly bear and I’m going nowhere, I’m not cut out for this, I’m not a writer, I hate this, and this bear is driving me nuts and has a 55-inch waist and he can outrun Secretariat and so on.”

Then simply “cut out the dear mother and cut off all that whining and howling and just keep the bear”.

McPhee’s tips prompted us to ask four Australian authors to share the best piece of writing advice they’ve ever received.

Maria Tokalander: Just start

An author of fiction, poetry and scholarly works, in 2010 Tokalander won the inaugural Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize.

She says the best tip she ever got was to just start.

“Stop fretting and start writing. The poem or story is not sitting in your head ready made, just waiting to be written down in an un-mediated flow of genius,” she says.

“It has to be forged on the page or screen through the work of reading and interacting with the words that start appearing as you write or type.”

This approach “does away … with the fear of the blank page,” she says.

Chris Wolmersley: Don’t think about your career

The author of four novels, Wolmersley won the 2008 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction for his debut, The Low Road.

He was once warned by a successful novelist not to treat writing as a career.

“Each novel, short story or poem, should be treated as discrete entity, rather than part of overall process or trajectory whereby one might reasonably expect to sell more books, or gain more prizes, or more prestige, or any of those things that have very little to do with actual literature,” he says.

Rajith Savanadasa: Lose the ego

Rajith Savanadasa published his debut novel, Ruins, in 2016.

He says the best tip he ever got was to be humble.

“It was useful when I was writing Ruins because it reminded me to put my massive ego aside, to stop worrying about what people think of me as a writer, and try to be true to my characters,” he says.

Melanie Cheng: You need an editor

Writer and GP Melanie Cheng is a big fan of Stephen King’s book of writing advice, On Writing. One of King’s most famous dictums is “write with the door closed and rewrite with the door open”. Cheng agrees.

“Premature criticism can derail something with great potential, but there also comes a point when you’ve exhausted your potential as the writer and that’s when you need someone with a fresh set of eyes, ideally a really good editor,” she says.

King’s advice seems to have paid off; Dr Cheng’s debut collection of short stories, Australia Day, won the fiction prize at the 2018 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Topics: books-literature, non-fiction, author, arts-and-entertainment, united-states, australia

First posted February 09, 2018 08:00:00

Technicolor dream: Adelaide to get $26m visual effects studio

Updated February 06, 2018 12:54:57

International entertainment company Technicolor will open an Adelaide visual effects studio, promising to create hundreds of jobs over the next few years.

The studio — which will cost $26 million — is due to open by the second half of the year.

Technicolor’s credits include The Shape of Water — which has been nominated for 13 Oscars — along with films including The Jungle Book, The Martian and Wonder Woman.

Chief executive Fred Rose listed favourable tax arrangements in the state and a strong pool of young talent being behind their decision to locate in Adelaide.

“You don’t have to travel around the world to get a job ,you can actually just get a job here — that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.

The studio, which will be called Mill Film, is expected to be more than 3,000 square metres in size.

It will initially concentrate on visual effects for major film studios and screening services and will expand into virtual and augmented reality.

Premier Jay Weatherill said he was “thrilled” by the company’s decision to set up a studio in Adelaide and described the company as “one of the world’s greatest”.

“This is a very significant investment and represents a massive entry into the Australian visual effects market, and they’ve chosen Adelaide, out of all the places in Australia, to adopt as their home,” Mr Weatherill said.

“This company wants to come here and not only create these jobs and opportunities, but also train young South Australians so they can participate in the sector.

“We’ve partnered with Technicolor to bring this about.”

He said some 500 jobs were likely to be created and the overall economic benefit is estimated at almost $253 million over 10 years.

“It’s been a discussion that’s been ongoing for over two years, and more intensely over the last year,” he said.

“I’m very proud to say that it will be these sorts of jobs created in this sector which will create the sort of excitement that will keep young South Australians here.”

Adelaide is also home to visual effects firm Rising Sun Pictures, which shared the glory of a 2014 Academy Award for best visual effects in the film Gravity.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, animation, film-movies, states-and-territories, government-and-politics, adelaide-5000, sa

First posted February 06, 2018 12:34:20