History of Tropfest

Tropfest is Australia’s most prestigious short film festival and one of its most iconic cultural events. It is also the largest short film festival in the world. At home, Tropfest is recognised for its enormous contribution to the development of the Australian film industry by providing unique platforms for talented filmmakers through its events and initiatives, and new and expanded audiences for their work.

John Polson started the ‘Tropicana Short Film Festival’ (as it was originally known) as an informal short film screening for cast, crew and friends at the Tropicana Cafe in Sydney’s Darlinghurst. More than 200 people showed up for that first screening. Inspired by the turn out, John decided that a full-fledged short film festival was the next step.

Twenty-one years on, Tropfest Australia attracts a live national audience of around 150,000 people on a single night. The event is hosted at Sydney’s Centennial Park, with live screenings in outdoor locations in major cities including Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Hobart and Surfers Paradise. The event is also broadcast on national television via broadcast partner SBS 2.

The annual short film competition is open to anyone who wishes to enter – regardless of their background or experience. 16 Finalists are selected from an entry pool of an average 700 annual entries and compete for more than $100,000 in prizes. Tropfest films are unique in that they have all been made specifically for Tropfest, will premiere at Tropfest and include the Tropfest Signature Item (or TSI), which changes each year. The TSI for Tropfest December 2013 was “CHANGE” and the TSI for the 2014 festival is “MIRROR”.

Tropfest is free to attend. The festival itself is an outdoor celebration complete with live music and entertainment, public catering and bars, red carpet arrivals and the highly anticipated film screenings followed by an awards ceremony.

The support and involvement of film personalities from around the world has become one of the trademarks of the festival. Selection of the winning Tropfest film takes place live on the night of the festival by a panel of high profile industry and celebrity judges. Past judges have included Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, Toni Collette, Rose Byrne, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, John Woo, Samuel L Jackson, Baz Luhrmann, Keanu Reeves, Liev Schreiber, Malcolm Gladwell, Bryan Singer,  Sam Neill, Ewan McGregor, Tobey Maguire, Jane Campion, Kriv Stenders, Robert Luketic, Adam Elliot, Sam Worthington, Salma Hayek, George Miller and Gabriel Byrne to name a few.

The festival attracts a wide degree of media coverage but it is the casual, grass roots nature of the event, rather than its high profile, which ensures the continued support of its patrons and guests.

The competition is taken very seriously and is considered the winner’s ticket to a successful career in film or television. Notable alumni include filmmakers such as Alister Grierson, Rowan Woods, Clayton Jacobson, Joel Edgerton, Nash Edgerton, Peter Carstairs, Rob Carlton, Sam Worthington, Robert Connolly, Leon Ford, Justin Drape, Tim Bullock and Elissa Down.

Tropfest has expanded internationally to now include new competitions and festivals in New Zealand, North America, South East Asia and the Middle East.