Around this time last year, we were all left shell-shocked by the threat of Tropfest becoming extinct, but 12 months later, against all expectations the festival has endured. Sensitive topics of lawsuits and the mysterious disappearance of millions of dollars have all be swept under the rug… and maybe that’s a good thing. With the behind-the-scenes controversies shoved firmly into the shadows, this year the spotlight has been rightfully turned to shine on the competing filmmakers for the 25th anniversary of Australia’s largest short film festival.
Tropfest celebrated its quarter of a century in style, with a televised event held at Parramatta Park where the 16 finalists were screened. This year’s short films had to incorporate a pineapple as part of Tropfest’s tradition of the signature item, and as always, there were varied interpretations of this; from subtle inclusions, to cringe-worthily obvious plugs.
Overall, this year’s top short films were a bit hit and miss; some of the weaker productions made me question whether many filmmakers even entered the competition, given the ambiguity surrounding the festival’s continued existence. On the bright side, however, there was a notable number of female filmmakers among the top crop, with roughly half of the finalists directed or produced by women.
Despite being a bit of a mixed bag, of those short films that did hit the mark, there were some truly outstanding displays of storytelling. So without any further ado, here’s my top 4 from this year’s finalists.
4. THE WALL
Story by Nick Baker
Animation by Tristan Klein
It always blows me away when amateur film festivals produce high quality animations. With absolutely stunning 2D visuals that bring to mind the early films of Georges Méliès, The Wall is like a children’s picture book for adults. Inspired by the plight of today’s refugees and Trump’s absurd proposal for a Game of Thrones-esque Mexican wall, Nick Baker’s short animation tells the tale of an elderly grandmother trying to survive in a tough reality. Narrated with a mystical quality by David Wenham, and supported by an emotive score from Helen Jane Long, The Wall does fall into slightly preachy territory in its final third, but its bittersweet ending more than makes up for this.
Going Vego was another animated finalist that at first appeared to be for children, but had very strong adult themes. Although boasting some amusing dialogue and excellent comedic timing from the voice talent, The Wall just pipped this one at the post in my humble opinion.
Directed and shot by Jefferson Grainger
In the short runtime required by Tropfest, this mini documentary only just gets to scratch the surface of what could potentially expand into a much broader narrative. Living alone in the outback, Talc is a deeply intriguing artist with a very strong worldview. At times, it’s difficult to tell whether he’s completely insane or a total genius… perhaps he’s both, but Jefferson Grainger’s exploration of this real-life character does not judge or manipulate opinion. It simply presents this incredible man through a beautifully shot and edited journey that will leave you deep in thought as you consider Talc’s fascinating theories and way of life.
2. SERVICE UPDATE
Produced & Directed by Olly Sindle
“I smile, you smile, the whole world smile”.
These are the words of Carl Downer – a Jamaican man who has carved an unexpected career out of bringing joy to any who cross his path in the London Underground. Service Update, like Talc, is another gorgeously shot documentary that’s based around a compelling character. While Talc intrigues, Service Update is imbued with the glorious feeling of pure, unadulterated happiness. It’s a viewing experience that will leave you grinning from ear to ear, as if you’ll actually float away out of your chair from the sheer elation. Carl Downer is a beautiful soul brimming with love for his job, other people and life in general. His story is a definite mood booster if there ever was one.
1. THE MOTHER SITUATION
Written & directed by Matt Day
The winner of Tropfest 25, and also my top pick, The Mother Situation is easily the most cinematic of all the finalists. Starring experienced Australian actors Sacha Horler (Offspring), Harriet Dyer (Love Child) and also writer/director Matt Day (Rake) – this short film is really in a class of its own. It’s a little unfair, really. Tropfest has always been a showcase of amateur filmmaking by emerging storytellers, and these three are well-seasoned in comparison to some of the other entrants. But Matt Day’s script is so fucking fantastic that it’s hard to sit here and complain too much. Channelling similar vibes to 2014 winner Granny Smith, The Mother Situation is a black comedy that’s best watched with as little knowledge of its concept as possible. Find it. Watch it. Enjoy it. That is all.
Another dark comedy to reach the finals was Meat & Potatoes, but while it featured some great banter between its leads, and some wonderfully absurd situations that bring Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet to mind, it just falls short of my top 4, despite being the runner up of the whole competition.
Images courtesy of tropfest.com.au