About Us

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. In Australia, Tropfest is recognised for its enormous contribution to the development of the 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-four 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 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 Australian 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 combination of Tropfest’s high profile, grass roots nature was a winning fit with New Zealand, and with a rich film history in Taranaki, Tropfest NZ found its home at the natural amphitheatre of the TSB Bowl of Brooklands. The festival has already attracted a wide degree of media coverage but it is the casual, community vibe of the festival which has attracted the continued support of its ambassadors and growing audience.

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 hundreds of entries. Tropfest NZ films are unique in that they have all been made specifically for Tropfest NZ, will premiere at Tropfest NZ and include the Tropfest Signature Item (or TSI), which changes each year. The TSI for our inaugural Tropfest in 2013 was "GUMBOOT", in 2014 it was "GLASSES", in 2015 it was "WIRE", in 2016 it was "DREAM" and the TSI for our upcoming 2017 festival is "FLAME".  

Tropfest is free to attend. The festival itself is an outdoor celebration complete with music and entertainment, public catering, red carpet arrivals and the highly anticipated film screenings followed by an awards ceremony. The live judging panel for Tropfest NZ has included industry heavyweights Katie Wolfe, John Barnett, Michael Bennett, Sara Wiseman, Stephen Hunter, Craig Hall, Michael Hurst & Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

Since its first presentation in 2013 Tropfest NZ has grown from strength to strength with hundreds of entries submitted from across the nation and thousands of people attending the main screening event. The competition is taken very seriously and considered the winner’s ticket to a successful career in film or television.

John Polson

John Polson is an award-winning actor and director, as well as the founder and director of the World’s Largest Short Film Festival, Tropfest.

John is the creative force behind Tropfest’s success and global expansion, from its humble beginnings as a screening of one of his own short films at Sydney’s Tropicana Cafe in 1993. Tropfest in Australia attracts a live audience of over 100,000 people on a single night, as well as hundreds of thousands more via a simultaneous television broadcast. Tropfest has been held in countries all around the world with stand-alone festivals now in New Zealand, South East Asia, New York and Arabia.

First and foremost, though, John’s passion lies behind the camera as a film director. Creating his first short film AN EVENING WITH HERMAN in the early 1980s, John has since garnered worldwide attention with feature 

films such as SIAM SUNSET (starring Linus Roache), which won awards at numerous film festivals around the world (including the Cannes International Film Festival). He also directed the US feature films SWIMFAN (starring Jesse Bradford, Erica Christensen) and HIDE AND SEEK (starring Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning), both of which opened at Number 1 at the US box office. John’s latest feature film TENDERNESS, in which he directed Russell Crowe and Laura Dern, was released in 2009.

Today, in addition to his feature film work, John flexes his creative muscle on the small screen as a producer and director on shows such as ELEMENTARY, FRINGE, THE MENTALIST, THE GOOD WIFE and FLASH FORWARD.

John is currently developing a number of feature projects as both director and producer in the US and Australia.

Tropfest Signature Item

The TSI for Tropfest NZ 2017 is 'FLAME'. Below are our past TSIs.


Tropfest is unique in that all films made for the festival must include the Tropfest Signature Item (TSI). The TSI changes each year and encourages film production as well as proving  to us that films have been made specifically for that year’s festival. 

  • 2014
  • 2013


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We believe that everyone has a story to tell ... and that those stories deserve an audience.

John Polson, Founder of Tropfest