Tropfest: A Small Selection By Caitlin McGrane

Posted on February 22, 2013


Every time I go to watch a short film, I’m often puzzled why I don’t watch more of them, and particularly when Tropfest rolls around I find myself at a loss to explain this discrepancy. Hence this little foray away from the original schedule to take a look at the winner and two runner-up films from this year’s Australian Tropfest.

For those of you who are unaware, Tropfest is the biggest global short film festival that started in Sydney 21 years ago. The idea is that anyone can enter, and it inspires young and perhaps relatively inexperienced filmmakers to jump in just for the experience. There are on average 700 films entered into the competition from which 16 finalists are drawn. The thing with Tropfest films is that they have been made specifically for the festival and must feature the Tropfest Signature Item, which this year was a balloon.

Tropfest: Very Sans Serif

Tropfest: Very Sans Serif

The concept behind Tropfest intrigues me; it must be difficult to narrow down from 700 to 16. I know the last time I edited in Brief it took us hours and hours, much bickering and even a walk-out to whittle 40 articles down to 19. Much as I would love to spend an entire evening watching the shortlisted films, I am only going to review the top three. But don’t fret, I’ll watch some of the other titillating-looking ones from the Sydney Morning Herald Tropfest website too to get a better understanding of the kind of calibre of art we’re dealing with here.

So we’ll start in third place with Punctured, a very charming little animated number that was reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing from a couple of years ago. Despite my lack of natural inclination to watch animated films, I really do enjoy animated shorts (YouTube some Creature Comforts from Ardman Animations – they’re wonderful basically because they took actual interviews with the reliably wacky British public and set them to clay animations of animals). Anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Punctured. The film sets up a man living in a world of gloom. He wakes up and his whole world is covered with newspaper, printed with Japanese script (which I don’t understand). He goes to his job in a balloon-popping factory, and when it catches on fire we are taken with him up through the city as he clings to the last balloon. It’s only a little over 3 minutes long so everything I write about it feels like a plot-spoiler, but I really loved the way in which the filmmakers Nick Baker and Tristan Klein made me smile in a world that was just really unkind to our little protagonist.

Popping balloons never looked so dreary.

Popping balloons has never looked so dreary.

The film Better Than Sinatra really tugs mercilessly at your heartstrings. The star, an elderly pensioner called Raymond Borzelli, leaves his tiny home 2 or 3 times a week to go dancing in the city with buskers. He says he is better than Sinatra and doesn’t know if the ladies look at him because of his dancing or his “beautiful baritone”. I’m pretty much tone deaf (I didn’t think Russell Crowe was that bad in Les Mis), but he seems to have quite a strong set of lungs on him. The short briefly explores his house, with the interior shots being particularly powerful because of the conditions in which he lives. The dust/dirt covering the phone, the two tins in the cupboard and his diminutive voice saying, “I’d never waste food”. However, nothing seems to diminish the spirit of Raymond and he clearly loves to spend his days in the outdoors dancing. A film about the real triumph of the human spirit. Better Than Sinatra made me want to book the first plane to Sydney, find Raymond, have dinner with him and then go do some dancing. What a charmer.

Raymond the Charmer

Raymond the Charmer

And finally, the winner, We’ve All Been There. I’ve just finished watching it, and it has already reverberated around my brain enough in the last few minutes that I’ve gone from thinking ‘meh’ to ‘aahhhh, interesting’. Needless to say, it’s very good. There’s a woman, her car has broken down, a man, who stops to help her, and a pregnant waitress, struggling to find $800 to save her house. The stories come together really beautifully, and the message that it is important to help out others is very well handled. All the actors are brilliant, my favourite being the Australian bloke, very ocker with a dry sense of humour. What I also really enjoyed about it was the subtle idea about masculine pride and embarrassment over money troubles (something to which Australia has been thankfully relatively immune, thus far). It’s a trait I rarely see as much in women: that ridiculous, outdated and downright backwards idea that an offer of payment for a good deed takes value away from it. No it doesn’t. It’s still a good deed, and you’re not a bad person if you’re paid for it. Doing something good for the money is bad; refusing to accept it when you’re struggling is just downright stupid. But we all know all this. I still like to see it being played out on screen.

I’m definitely keen to watch more of these, and I strongly encourage all of you to check out the SMH website to watch them all for free. And next year, I’m booking my ticket early.

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident movie reviewer. You can catch her column, Here. Hare. Here., every Friday.

What do you think? Are you a short film fanatic, or do you rarely get around to it? Take to the comments section.