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Tropfest: The death of the Australian Film Industry?

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By David Griffiths

Apparently yesterday marked the death of the Australian film industry. Well that’s what a majority of the press is saying – the death of Tropfest marks the death of the Australian film industry as we know it. My question is – Really? How?

I’m assuming by these reports that somehow the death of Tropfest has meant that great Australian actors like Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush and Cate Blanchett suddenly forgot how to act over night or that award winning filmmakers like Kriv Stenders and George Miller have run out of ideas for films just like that. Of course all that is complete nonsense.

On the surface there seems to be no good reason for Tropfest to be cancelled this year. According to the official statement made by Tropfest head honcho John Polson the festival was unable to go ahead because ‘the company contracted to raise the funding and administer the Tropfest event is unable to move forward for financial reasons.’ Having said that though major Tropfest sponsors Qantas, Uber, Nova Entertainment and Sommersby Cider have all expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ at the cancellation of the event and were more than willing to go ahead with their partnerships. Given that the festival also has the backing of strong film financing organisations such as Screen Australian and Screen NSW it almost seems unfathomable that the event couldn’t have gone ahead in some sort of scaled back version even.

But back to my main point, does the death of Tropfest mean the death of the Australian film industry? No of course not. Yes there have been some notable finalists at Tropfest over the years (should I point out that some where already successes before their ‘triumph’ at Tropfest) but just like any other film festival there have also been a lot of finalists who have never gone on to anything as well. Yes lets be blunt, behind all the gloss and glamour Tropfest was ‘just another’ short film festival.

Most of the doom and gloom articles surfacing today talk about the fact that the death of Tropfest means that short film makers no longer have a platform to show their films anymore. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The demise of Tropfest is not going to stop festivals like the Melbourne International Film Festival, Jim Stamatakos’ Electric Shorts, Dick Dale’s Trasharama, A Night Of Horror, Monster Fest, Melbourne Underfround Film Festival or the 100 or so monthly short film nights that are held around Australia each year. Short films are now dead in Australia? Really? Tell that to the 1,000+ people I sat with at Steve Bastoni’s Peninsula Short Film Festival last summer. Again let’s be blunt any of those film festivals have also had just as many filmmakers go onto success than Tropfest has.

Truthfully Australia’s film industry is a lot healthier than a lot of people would have you believe. Big blockbuster films like Ted and Captain America bring their post and pre production work to Australia to be finished off – a move that now sees Marvel actually wanting to film more of their films on our shores. Meanwhile studios in Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast have all been home to international productions over the past few years while even our own homegrown films have delivered the goods right around the world as well. Mad Max: Fury Road raked in cash right around the world, films like Oddball and The Dressmaker had Australians wanting to watch Australian films again while our cult cinema filmmakers had Wyrmwood and Kill Me Three Times rocket up the charts in the U.S. to reach the top spots on Netflix.

Yes, the demise of Tropfest might be sad for those involved but at the end of the day Tropfest was just a drop in a much larger ocean, and that ocean is the healthiest it has ever been.

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