AUSTRALIAN award-winning actor and director John Polson started the “Tropicana Short Film Festival” at the Tropicana Cafe in Sydney in 1993. This first-ever screening drew a crowd of 200, which inspired Polson to take his project one step further and create a full-fledged short film festival. Today, Tropfest Australia attracts a live national audience of around 150,000 people, and Tropfest as a whole has grown to become the world’s largest film festival.
Who exactly is Polson? He is famed for making films such as Hide and Seek in 2005 (starring Robert de Niro and Dakota Fanning) and 2009’s Tenderness (starring Russell Crowe and Laura Dern). He also serves as a producer and director on some of our favourite television shows like Fringe, The Mentalist, The Good Wife, Without a Trace and Flash Forward.
Earning legions of fans from movie lovers to A-listers, Tropfest has taken the world by storm and now has festivals in the USA, UAE, New Zealand, and from this year, in Southeast Asia. Hollywood stars such as Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe and Geoffrey Rush have, in the past, been honoured to become judges.
This year, Tropfest was launched for the first time in Southeast Asia and was held in Penang on Jan 25. The aim was to contribute to the development of the film industry in Asia by providing opportunities for filmmakers to bring their short films to the community in the region as well as the rest of the world.
“Stories form the building blocks of any community, and are at the very heart of the Tropfest ethos. It doesn’t matter what your age, budget, nationality, or profession is. Tropfest SEA is a platform for every kind of story from anyone. Everybody has a story to tell, and with the support of these partnerships, we hope that each story will touch those across the region,” said Tropfest SEA managing director Joe Sidek at a recent media conference.
“This event is a wonderful way to bring people together, especially those in the short film industry. We look forward to the popularity of this event helping strengthen Malaysia’s global appeal as a leading Asian destination for major entertainment performances,” said Malaysia Major Events general manager Tony Nagamaiah, who is one of the event’s supporters.
This year’s winner, Cambodian filmmaker Sothea Ines received a US$10,000 (RM34,900) cash award, and her winning film has gone on to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival and the Raindance Film Festival in London.
The upcoming 2015 competition’s theme is “Wheel”, and between July 1 and Oct 15 this year, the Tropfest SEA team toured the region to promote the competition. Over 115 entries were received from eight of the 11 Southeast Asian countries, and were viewed by these judges, amongst others: Marissa Anita (Indonesia), Kamil Othman (Malaysia), Hannah Espia (Philippines), Lio Jiekai (Singapore), Lee Chatametikool (Thailand), Chhay Bora (Cambodia) and Diep Hoang Nguyen (Vietnam).
The 16 finalists chosen by these judges will be announced at the end of December, and on Feb 1 2015, the winners will be announced during the festival, celebrating the talent, dedication and hard work that had been put into the art of storytelling and filmmaking.
Prizes for Tropfest SEA 2015 are US$12,000 and a five-day immersion trip to Los Angeles for the first place winner, courtesy of Yayasan Sime Darby and The Motion Picture Association (MPA) respectively. The second and third place winners will have the chance to attend a Tropfest International Event, whereas all finalists will win US$500 each.
Tropfest SEA has the support of various bodies, including Malaysia Major Events (MME), a division of Malaysia Convention & Exhibition Bureau which is an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture; as well as Yayasan Sime Darby, the MPA, and the National Film Development Corp of Malaysia (Finas).
Tropfest SEA 2015 will take place on Feb 1, 2015 at the Esplanade, Penang. For more information, please visit www.tropfest.com/sea.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 11, 2014.