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

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

The teenager who made a sold-out feature film in secret

Posted February 11, 2018 10:00:38

A Darwin-raised filmmaker has sold out a cinema with a premiere screening of a film that was made almost entirely in secret.

We’re Family Now tells the story of a dysfunctional family navigating new and tumultuous circumstances — a mature storyline for a student filmmaker who’s not even 20 years old.

Nathaniel Kelly, who studies screen production at AFTRS in Sydney, returned to his stomping ground to launch the feature film last week.

The domestic drama was almost two years in the making, with a 20-day shoot taking place in Darwin and relying upon a handful of Kelly’s mates.

“It’s great having mates that like to act but are also interested in the technical side of things; if you’re not acting, just jump behind the camera and give us a hand,” Kelly said.

There was no distributor and no marketing for the film, the budget for which was a cool $0.

Instead, the project was propelled along with community support, including a leading turn from local character Phil O’Brien.

“But I hadn’t even asked him until about two months before we started filming,” Kelly said.

“It was like I just assumed we’d get him.”

O’Brien said the shoot probably cost him more to appear in than it cost Kelly to make.

“He’s a sensitive sort of humble young bloke, but don’t get sucked in,” said O’Brien, who flew from interstate to appear in the movie.

“When you’re filming he can crack the whip.

“He showed me the script and it was like the Old Testament.

“I had to know it word for word; I couldn’t put any of my own stuff in there. That just wasn’t on.”

There were more signs the film was more than just a student project when Kelly made plans to premiere it at a local cinema.

“We thought we might get 50 tickets, just to cover the hire costs of the venue,” he said.

The film started to sell out before Kelly had even booked his own seat.

Finding unlikely inspiration in suburban Darwin

Films shot in the Top End tend to make use of the area’s sprawling surrounds, where brilliant green foliage, blue lagoons and sprawling landscapes make any shot look painterly.

But Kelly bucked the trend of films like Ten Canoes and the Crocodile Dundee franchise, instead finding inspiration in something closer to home.

“I was really inspired by films like The Castle.

“What I really wanted to capture was, like, suburbia.

“Darwin is painted as this amazing rural town with sweeping landscapes and stuff, and it does have all that, but I wanted to show a different side — this really domestic side.

“That’s where the idea came from, and the stories are just reworked stories and emotions from all of our lives, just me and the small crew that I work with.”

Another advantage to shooting in Darwin, Kelly found, was that the relaxed, happy-go-lucky attitude of locals extended to the use of public space.

“Even though there are still rules and regulations in place, a lot of people are a lot more friendly about shooting in public spaces and are willing to help you out,” he said.

“And not ask for money when they know you don’t have any.”

‘Life didn’t exist without filmmaking’

Growing up in Darwin, Kelly recalled getting his hands on a video camera his father used to own.

He hit record almost as soon as he could put sentences together, making shorts with his little sister, and never looked back.

“I picked up a camera at four and I think I made my first short film, just with my sister,” he said.

“I can’t really remember back that far, but it just felt like life didn’t exist without filmmaking.”

(His younger sister reprised a role in We’re Family Now as an adopted girl from a disadvantaged family.)

In high school, Kelly’s friends pointed him to films by Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and other popular directors who tend to take innovative approaches to storytelling while employing a distinct visual style.

“I think my filmmaking style was really organic up until about high school when a lot of friends started showing me their favourite films and we started taking a lot of stylistic references from them,” he said.

“Personally I don’t think too many directors specifically have influenced my style, but definitely whatever I watch I take notes, whether it be a documentary or a short film or something I see in the cinemas.”

Darwin is not particularly well-known for its filmmaking scene, and most of the Northern Territory’s cinematic luminaries, such as Rachel Perkins and Warwick Thornton, have come from Alice Springs.

But Kelly continued to make the most of what the city had to offer, submitting shorts to local film festivals, some of which have now ceased to exist.

Despite a promising career that might eventually buck this trend, the teenager hasn’t told many of his Sydney classmates of his debut feature’s success.

“At my university I just keep a really low key,” he said.

“Everyone there’s in the industry; you don’t want to stand out. I’m under the radar.”

Topics: film-movies, youth, human-interest, darwin-0800

Websites move to ban pornographic ‘deepfakes’

Updated February 09, 2018 12:53:56

Social media giants Twitter and Reddit are the latest websites to ban pornographic “deepfakes” — videos that swap one person’s face for another.

The practice has exploited a number of celebrities, including Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot and singer Taylor Swift.

The technology has also been used to create comedy and satire however, there are fears it could be abused to make propaganda.

From Face/Off to FakeApp

In 1997 actor Nicolas Cage played a terrorist in action movie Face/Off in which his face was swapped with a FBI agent, played by John Travolta.

So late last year when the technique of face swapping became popular on Reddit, a website where users share and rate content, Cage was “cast” in a bunch of old movies.

Suddenly the Con Air star could add films Man of Steel, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lork Ark and Casino Royale to his credits.

While the clips were obviously fake, some were more convincing than others.

But the open source software making these Cage face-offs was also used to create realistic pornographic images and videos of celebrities.

That was made increasingly easier by the app FakeApp, which only required a few pictures of a person to generate a so-called “deepfake”.

Amid growing concern, Reddit updated its site rules against “involuntary pornography” and banned forums, known as subreddits, dedicated to pornographic deepfakes.

Other websites including Twitter, Pornhub and Gfycat have reportedly introduced similar policies.

Barack Obama’s speech that never happened

Swapping faces is not a new thing, but recent developments in technology have made it easier to do and harder to detect.

Researchers from the University of Washington last year superimposed former US president Barack Obama’s face onto a computer generated mouth that could say anything they wanted.

Their method required hours of video of the same person, like a powerful political leader, and an algorithm to create the convincing lip sync.

Snippets of Mr Obama’s voice — and the voice of an Obama impersonator — could then be used in the video to pass it off as real.

The process did require the researchers to manually map out Mr Obama’s teeth in videos to match it up with the fake speech.

However, they believed that step could be automated in future work by creating a program that automatically trained in on large, clear white teeth.

Tis but a face swap

Not all face swaps are sinister.

Huw Parkinson creates satirical videos for ABC’s Insiders by inserting Australian and international political figures into popular films and TV shows.

He even won a Walkley Award for his work in 2015.

In 2016 his mash-up featuring Donald Trump in a Game of Thrones-like saga went global and made the cover of the New York Post.

Here’s one of his most watched videos from last year:

Topics: internet-technology, science-and-technology, internet-culture, digital-multimedia, film-movies, united-states

First posted February 09, 2018 12:52:49

In the age of online streaming, Brisbane is having a cinemas boom

Posted February 08, 2018 18:13:03

In an time where you can stream any movie or TV show directly into your lounge room, you might wonder why people would bother going to the cinemas. But it appears Brisbane is in the middle of a cinema boom.

In the past few months, a multi-million-dollar cinema complex has opened at Newmarket on the city’s northside, as well as Dendy cinemas at Coorparoo in the city’s east and the Elizabeth Picture Theatre in the CBD.

Surprisingly, there is more to come.

Initial approval has been granted for a seven-cinema development at Wynnum on Brisbane’s bayside and an eight-screen cinema complex is to be constructed at the South City Square project at Woolloongabba.

With endless options available, why are people still choosing the cinemas for entertainment?

Independent Cinemas Australia president Scott Seddon said it was about the experience.

“It really comes down to the fact that people have a basic need to get out of their house,” Mr Seddon said.

“They don’t want to live their entire life stuck in a room watching all the content that they see on a mobile phone or a tablet.

“They want a chance to get into a cinemas where they’re in a comfy seat, watching a bright picture on a big screen where the phone isn’t ringing, notifications aren’t coming up on the screen while they’re trying to watch the movie, and people aren’t asking what’s for dinner — all those distractions.”

Reading Entertainment managing director Wayne Smith said the Newmarket location was carefully selected to be a cinema site.

“Newmarket has all the ideal attributes we’d typically look for in a location,” Mr Smith said.

“A high-profile position, arterial road way access, plenty of parking and a solid underlying city fringe population.”

The Sourris brothers have been in cinema management for generations, and with so much development in the pipeline, they are doing what they can to stand out in the market.

The brothers refurbished the New Farm Cinemas in 2014, and last year turned the old Irish Club in the CBD into a boutique cinema, known as the Elizabeth Picture Theatre.

Now they have their eyes set on restoring the Red Hill Skate Arena into a five-screen movie theatre, but plan on keeping its unique exterior.

The arena has been neglected since being gutted by fire in 2002.

“They’re old buildings — they’ve got history and I think it’s important to retain that history,” Stephen Sourris said.

“Particularly with Red Hill — it’s got a lot of graffiti and surprisingly a lot of those graffiti artists are now famous and the graffiti that was done at Red Hill, some could classify as works of art.

“We definitely intend on retaining all the graffiti and all the elements of the building.”

Mr Seddon said the cinema industry had survived every threat over the past century, and had evolved to stay relevant.

“We had television, then we had colour television, we had VHS, we had DVD, we had cable TV,” he said.

“Each of these threats have come along, but the thing they have in common is they’re all various forms of in-home entertainment.

“That chance to leave and go to another place is what cinemas has been offering for over 100 years and what it continues to offer.”

Topics: film-movies, small-business, company-news, business-economics-and-finance, brisbane-4000, qld, newmarket-4051, red-hill-4059, australia

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