Filmmakers rejoice as Tropfest drops dead
*This is a bonus post not related to main themes of our blog.
There’s a perception that artistic institutions are inherently ‘good’ places. They’re ethical, liberal, open-minded and strong proponents of free speech. While the banks, mining companies and law firms are ripping people off, the film and music festivals are balancing the scales by contributing to our rich culture, supporting free speech and providing an outlet for artists to express themselves.
That’s the perception.
The demise of Tropfest came as a shock to most local filmmakers in Australia. Despite this feeling of surprise, across most bars in Melbourne’s inner north, I would suspect that the words ‘good riddance’ were shared among writers and directors over a few pint of ‘2 Birds’. This is because most filmmakers in Australia don’t take Tropfest seriously.
Tropfest was known as the festival that required filmmakers to submit unoriginal stories with cheesy dialogue, heavily-inspired low-brow humour and the inclusion of a B or C grade celebrity to be considered for selection.
On top of all that, these films needed to be made with exceptional production qualities, requiring filmmakers to spend thousands on post-production for a 7 minute short film that had to be made exclusively for Tropfest (it couldn’t screen anywhere else prior to the event).
If you don’t believe my assertions then I encourage you to watch some of the past finalists on Youtube. With the exception of a few (perhaps Animal Beatbox), you’ll see a bunch of brilliantly produced, poorly acted, poorly written films with cheesy, obvious punchlines that will make you retch.
Tropfest was hardly the cream of the crop insofar as filmmaking talent in Australia is concerned.
The 2014 winner, Granny Smith, was a painfully obvious film about two cookie cutter, ‘blokey dudes’ going to the wrong funeral. Despite the script reading like ‘The Hangover Part III,’ plot holes the size of a Siberian crater and a punchline that could have been written by an 8 year-old, this film won the coveted main prize, and the filmmakers enjoyed a undeserved amount of media attention that most filmmakers in Australia could only imagine themselves receiving.
Granny Smith won for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was exceptionally well made. Some filmmakers estimated that it would have cost between 5-10 thousand to produce it. Secondly, they cleverly included a C-grade celebrity, Steve Vizard. The filmmakers did this because they know that Tropfest loves celebrities and including a celebrity greatly enhances your chances for selection (but it’s a festival for artists right?). Finally, Granny Smith used a brand of humour that is digestible for most audiences. It’s not clever or edgy or ironic or satirical. It’s lazily written comedy that anyone could write. And that’s my final point about Tropfest. Selection is guaranteed if you can include some crowd-pleasing gags and obvious punchlines.
2013’s winner, ‘Bamboozled,’ was lambasted in the media with claims that it was ‘transphobic,’ an allegation that I didn’t personally agree with, but I feel that Bamboozled was guilty of the far more horrific crime of not being funny. It was an atrociously written, creatively bankrupt piece of garbage made by a talented (he actually is) young filmmaker and a member of the Tropfest alumni. Tropfest was also known to ‘look after’ its alumni and filmmakers are told by their peers that having your film selected at Tropfest greatly increases the odds of your next film being selected.
We shouldn’t feel sorry that this festival died. The failure of Tropfest should be seen as nothing less than a positive outcome for the Australian independent film scene. Tropfest pretended to support Australian artists but it became obvious to most local filmmakers that the festival valued mediocrity and ‘star power’ over decent storytelling.
Let’s hope that the collapse of Tropfest paves the way for the introduction of some film festivals that actually support honest filmmakers and reward original films.