Sunday, February 21, 2010


So tonight was Tropfest (rhymes with "drop" not "dope") in Sydney. Somehow I'd missed even knowing about it the last two years, but evidently it's annual event, and a pretty good one at that. Sydney's really quite good with annual events, what with the fireworks and the festival and Marti Gras. Come to think of it, it's really better at annual events in the summer, though. Much too likely to rain in the winter.

Anyway, Tropfest is a free outdoor short film festival. The films must be under 7 minutes, and each year there's a theme. This year's was dice, which was pretty cool, though only seemed evident in about half the films. There's hundreds of entries, and 16 are picked to be presented at Tropfest.

Since it's free, people arrive early to get a good location. The films started about sundown, so my friends and I met up at 5 to get a good spot. We found a suitable one -- it had a good view and was close to the food. Not bad.

Despite being big (the official count was 75,000 people, though I'd have placed it closer to 10,000. Guess the census bureau won't be needing me after all.) the crowd was amazingly placid. Everyone seemed content enough, but showed no inclination of making much noise, much less doing the wave. It felt really quite casually low-key.

The host plowed peppily on, though, as he was being broadcast on live TV, but I don't think most people really paid much attention to him until he started the countdown (10=9-8) to the actual films. There was an lengthy intermission in the middle to give everyone a potty break, then another briefer one before the awards.

The awards were actually quite sizable -- several grand cash, plus lots of movie buff stuff (editing suite time, etc.) -- with a sizable chunk (going to best male actor and best female actor; when did people stop being actresses and start becoming female actors? That's what they all are here in Oz.) coming from Australia's leading female actor herself, Nicole Kidman.

Despite the reasonable size of prizes, though, I was surprised by how down-to-earth it all felt -- there was no glamour or glitz, hardly any security and continual announcements about please remembering to dispose of one's rubbish in the thoughtfully provided biodegradable bags. A lovely evening out, to be sure, but with an air almost closer to a large-scale, calm school carnival than a nation's premier film festival of the year. People'd brought their dogs, their cigarettes, their two Asian ingenues who laced themselves suggestively around their old, balding Caucasian escort, etc. A real night on the town.

You're probably really more interested in hearing about the films, though. Like I said, there were sixteen, so I'll give you a summary. Before I do, though, I just wanted to mention how very odd it was that no fewer than three of the 16 films (nearly a quarter, the nonexistent mathematician in me hastens to point out) contained scenes of choking, a topic I have always found particularly disturbing seeing as it has happened so frequently in my house. There was also quite a lot of suicidal script running through the films, though thankfully that has not been as prevalent in real life for me. They do always say comedy's harder to do, though I must say I emphatically prefer it.

And now, on with the show!

1. The first film was actually my favorite: it was of a director of one of these short films trying to figure out how to make a creative film with dice in it. (Not that the theme had gotten in the way of most of the others.) He kept trying out different genres (horror, romance, etc.) until, with his girlfriend's help, he finally hit on musical. It was great.

2. Stakeout, a show about two cops making funny Star Wars noises at each other when they were supposedly on duty. Two car dice dangled in front of their cruiser. It was alright.

3. A daggy girl talking about how she wanted a perfect man, yet clearly would have been unable to get one. Until the end. When she revealed that her father owned a brewery. No dice? No cigars. Won third place and best actress.

4. A really well done and interesting take on a stock standard situation. Called "Falling Backwards," it showed the end result first (a man getting killed by a knife that was thrown into him) but then proceeded to rewind so that you got the whole story -- it was thrown by his wife who had just caught him in bed with another woman. The final (i.e., first) scene was of him turning over the picture of his wife before bringing his mistress in. Very clever, completely unconnected to dice.

5. A man in despair driving to work in Sydney. Turned out he was a morning radio broadcaster and then had to be all peppy. The whole crew only turned it on for the show, though, and otherwise things were pretty grim. The end of the clip was the clincher; it said it was dedicated to Kyle Sandilands, which made it instantaneously outrageously funny to Australians. Kyle Sandilands is a very well known radio talk show host who's recently been kicked off several program for crossing very offensive lines (the first was having a 14-year-old girl confess on air to having been raped; the second was a joke about a fat woman who'd lost a lot of weight and Holocaust survivors). The film won first place.

6. Bizarre animation with a sort of Wall-E type robot feel to it. One robot helping another come to "life" as a music box centerpiece before running out of battery.

7. A really cool film about a woman about to commit suicide because she's heartbroken, but is stopped by a knock on her door that's a singing telegram for Valentine's Day. Unfortunately the guy made a mistake and it's for the girl next door. But that girl's not there so he comes in and chats with the woman and cheers her up and she gives him the rope to tie up his character pants so they don't fall down. The end.

8. Sheer fun sort of clip about a neighborhood getting overrun by baboons. Bizarre, too, but cool. Won best score and second place.

9. Weird one about cousins dancing when they're young and trying to recreate their you-tubed falling-down mishap when they're older. Vaguely reminiscent of The Office's asides in parts, but generally just odd and blah.

10. Strange animation about a baby with testicular troubles. Won best animation.

11. Rather disturbing story about two brothers who were fighting. Their mother said if she got called again for them there'd better be blood. Later, they found a dead body and didn't know what to do with it. Spent most of the time trying to figure it out since they thought they'd get in trouble and be accused of murder, then were hanging around in front of some train tracks and the guy that was supposed to be dead wasn't and got up and then walked in front of the train and got killed.

12. A group of disturbed fathers talking about deep and sensitive issues. Seemed to be made to raise awareness for men's issues and the good that can come of talking through them.

13. Another of my favorites. It was the cutest little clip about the cutest little die who was a number one and all alone. Kept walking through the park and seeing number couples together -- two 5s for instance -- often with with little dice or even dog dice. The poor little one (it was red and always wore headphones) was so sad and cried cute little tear drops out of its number one. A big dog chased it off a bridge and it fell into the water but then another number one die came along and saved it and they went walking off together, happy.

14. Fish lips. Pretty cool, a story told entirely in French accents from the perspective of the goldfish (do I hear Dr. Suess anyone?) about a girl and two boys who played Yahtzee. Eventually they grew up and the girl gave the fishbowl a kiss and the fish begged us not to eat his cousins in our freezers.

15. Another kind of disturbing one. Two girlfriends (or self and alter ego?) sitting across from each other at a restaurant. One clearly a pampered, self-centered brat who was extremely rude to the other, the waitor, etc. Then the brat choked on her food and her friend drank all the water she needed to recover and let her die on the table.

16. A guy on the top of a tall building, accidentally loses his cigarette over the side. A woman comes out, thinks he's suicidal and tries to talk him out of it. The talk goes sadly awry though and he ends up jumping. Another man comes out and the cycle of a non-suicidal person about to become suicidal looks to repeat itself.

And there you have it, folks. Your very own personal summary of Tropfest 2010. Hope you liked it. But if not, there's always next year. The theme, should you care to accept it, which really isn't all that necessary, but civil to mention nonetheless, is key.

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