Not even a financial disaster can stop the Trop! Make your way over to iTunes, Presto or YouTube and check out some of this year’s fantastic finalists.
It almost didn’t happen. Australia’s filmmaking community – including the thousands of hard working writers, directors, actors and crew members who had been a part of the 450-plus short film entries – was rocked to its core back in November by the shock announcement that Tropfest had been abruptly cancelled, thanks to an inconveniently misplaced six-figure fund. Whoops.
CGU Insurance swooped in to resurrect the nation’s biggest short film festival, hastily sweeping that rather embarrassing bit of controversy under the rug and ensuring the sixteen film finalists reached our televisions. Though it meant enduring some cringe-worthy hosting from SBS’s insufferable alumni of The Feed, we should be very grateful, as this year’s finalists prove that our up-and-coming silver screen creatives only get more talented as each year passes.
The “signature item” this time round was “card” – to be envisioned by each entrant however they chose. Sadly there were no West Australian finalists in sight, but forgivable for the sheer high standard set by the gifted bunch selected as the supreme sixteen. It was difficult to narrow down, but here are five of my favourites – a “Trop 5”, if you will – in no particular order.
Director: Kiah Roach Turner
Producer: Cain Thompson
Kiah Roache-Turner – director of Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead – churns out the wittiest and flat-out funniest entry of this year’s competition with Stella, a morally conflicting and highly amusing exercise in uncomfortable humour. Two best mates meet at a bar for a few beers to ventilate the relationship troubles plaguing their lives; one having learnt that, much to his dismay, his wife is cheating on him, and the other suspiciously confessing that he has fallen in love with a married woman…
There’s subtle technical feats at play here, from appropriately timed jukebox blues music to a Birdman-style single take hovering around our frenemies; but what really stands out is Roache-Turner’s tight, compelling script, and the dynamic acting duo that bring it to life with expert comedic timing. It’s shocking, cringe-inducing, and incredibly entertaining.
Director: Daniel Cloud Campos & Spencer Susser
Producer: Daniel Cloud Campos & Spencer Susser
This year’s winner took everyone by surprise: directors Daniel Cloud Campos and Spencer Susser make use of nothing but clothing for an animated yarn that’s short, sweet and a little ingenious. A damsel in distress is defended by an unsung suited gentleman, who must fight off a whirlwind of crazed costumed characters all seeking the lady’s handbag and the shiny treasure within…
Putting the classic stop-motion technique to use in unthinkably inventive new ways, it’s really something that needs to be witnessed to appreciate, and promises big things of its American creators – you might even find yourself contemplating the possible things you could do with that old pile of clothes on the floor afterwards.
Postcards to Ulay
Director: Nick Baker & Tristan Klein
Producer: Nick Baker & Tristan Klein
Animation reigns supreme among this years’ finalists, and while it may not be quite as visually innovative as Shiny, Nick Baker & Tristan Klein’s tale excels in packing an emotional wallop. Having unsuccessfully sent every dog in the land into space, Russian cosmonauts seek out and kidnap the last canine, Ulay; loving companion to a widowed old man. Dearly missing his best friend, the old man sends hundreds of postcards addressed to Ulay into the sky, hoping that one will eventually traverse the outer reaches of the galaxy and find him.
The cutout animation is fluid and the music highly effective; and though told through simple narration as if it were a bedtime fable, Baker shows true storytelling power in his tragedy, creating the most affecting film among the finalists – even more so than any live action short.
Waste of Time
Director: Ben Nicholas & Alistair Marks
Producer: Julian Vincent Costanzo & Ben Nicholas
Time travel is a ripe vessel with infinite possibilities, so it’s no wonder it inspires filmmakers like Ben Nicholas and Alistair Marks to conjure up innovative stories. John has spent the last twelve years of his life in his parents’ garage building a time machine, and today is the day he finally plans to use it. But a mysterious man claiming to be from the future appears to warn John of the dangerous impact time travel will have on his life if he does go ahead with his project.
Immediately bringing to mind Primer, which itself was produced on barely any budget; it shows just how far filmmaking and technology has come since, and further proves that grand scale effects aren’t necessary to craft a clever, original science fiction narrative. Some interesting commentary on the vaccine debate and an unexpected twist showcase the big ideas that come in Nicholas and Marks’ small package.
Wish You Here
Director: Benjamin O’Donnell
Producer: Tanya Andrews
The zombie genre is now extremely overfed and well past its decomposition date, but Benjamin O’Donnell’s quaint vision of the undead apocalypse manages to breathe some life into a tattered corpse. Freshly undead Karl is alone in an empty world, and feels the crushing isolation setting in on him. Fortunately, he still vaguely remembers some functions of his human behaviour from prior to the end of days, so stationing himself at his computer he tries desperately to contact his now missing wife via email.
O’Donnell builds a whole lot of emotion from Karl’s despondent attempts at messaging, genuinely making us feel for this animated corpse, and our peek at his melancholic day-to-day activities is bleakly funny; but most impressive here is the aesthetic – the zombie makeup, desolate set design and visual effects could almost be mistaken for Hollywood output.
Images (c) Tropfest 2016