It's time to leave home as Tropfest turns 21

Tropfest faithful ... crowds enjoy a late summer evening as they prepare for the final Tropfest in Sydney's Domain.
Tropfest faithful ... crowds enjoy a late summer evening as they prepare for the final Tropfest in Sydney's Domain.
Light, camera, action ... crowds gather for the Tropfest film festival.

Light, camera, action ... crowds gather for the Tropfest film festival.

It was a night of imaginary art, imaginary action, talented children and ill-fated pregnant women in the Tropfest films presented on Sunday night as the giant short film festival farewelled the Domain.

Clear skies, a rarity for Tropfest, meant nearly 100,000 people rolled out their picnic rugs to watch the films live.

Always popular with the acting community, the big name stars judging this year included Sam Worthington, Magda Szubanski, Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney.

Worthington said the best part of Tropfest is it's free: "Too many actors get caught up in box office figures and that malarkey whereas this is filmmakers connecting directly with an excited and supportive audience."

Gibney said she was overwhelmed by the size of the crowd: "It's amazing and I think as a judge I should let everyone know I am accepting bribes and I prefer hundreds and fifties."

House Husbands actor Gyton Grantley was called in to judge after Jessica Mauboy had to pull out due to a family emergency. "I'm happy to be first reserve judge. Tropfest is a big deal," he said.

Comic actor Shane Jacobsen said, "I'm excited to be at an event like this because I love to see new talent giving it a go."

Previous Tropfest winners and finalists include accomplished actors Rob Carlton, Alyssa McClelland and Matilda Brown.

Carlton jokingly described Tropfest as his spiritual home. "I come here in December and mark out my spot, like dogs do, and then I'm sorted to rock up and reclaim the best possie on the night."

As ever, the sixteen finalists were dominated in quantity by comedies and tales with a twist, yet the truly original films stole the show.

Raymond Borzelli, the 86 year old busker at the heart of the documentary Better Than Sinatra may today be the most celebrated dancer in Sydney.

The single animated finalist, Punctured, captured hearts without ever saying a word, to prove that beauty and simplicity are always winning options. Time travel and zombies were given real heart, while Taser gave us a Memento-like lesson in pre-conceived stereotypes.

It was Inside that stood out from the pack, with a blend of colour, emotion and madness that were worthy of its Wizard of Oz-style final image.

Though the first half's line-up held more gems than the second, there was entertainment to be found in all of the films.

The action came through water bombs, milkshake bombs, tasers, car crashes and zombies. The laughs from a crazed cow actor, a child running a carwash cancer con, and mariachi message delivery. While prostitutes, hustlers, over-zealous actresses and husbands who lose the remote all got their comeuppance.

As for the balloons – the signature item for this year's festival – they were occasionally front and centre such as in the two excellent horror efforts, the surprisingly moving zombie film Cargo and the amusingly gory Pledge for Mister Bunny, but more often required a quick eye and sometimes a quicker explanation as to exactly how they qualified.

Change is coming to Australia's biggest short film festival. Not only is it to be the new signature item for Tropfest's 22nd year of competition, but the international festival is getting a new venue.

Tropfest creator John Polson says Sunday's screening will be last at the Domain. The festival will switch to Centennial Park, with a new date of December 8.

The festival has evolved from its early years as a gathering at the Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst to a major Australian cultural event staged at the Domain. But even the Domain has reached capacity.

''We feel like we are changing gears, we are growing every year and Centennial Park is in some ways the emotional heart of Sydney,'' says Polson. ''We don't feel as though we'll lose anyone and we can tap into a new crowd living in the eastern suburbs.''

Polson says a December event better fits the international film calendar, coming before the Oscars, the British film awards and the Berlin Film Festival, allowing the festival to attract international visitors. Actors of the calibre of Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe were often tied up in Hollywood promoting Oscar film contenders.

And Polson is hoping the month of December might be drier after the 2012 audience was drenched by a seasonal thunderstorm.

''Statistically, December gets half the rainfall of February. That's not to say it doesn't rain but that's the icing on the cake if we have fair skies. The real reason for the move is having looked at the global calendar we want to find a place for Tropfest to fit in with other major film festivals.

''We've started to attract more international guests and punters, not just to Sydney but Melbourne as well. For a long time filmmakers have had to make their films around Christmas when everything shuts down. If anybody is going to be happy it is the creators because they are going to be doing their business, scurrying around, when the rest of Australia is not on holidays.''

This story It's time to leave home as Tropfest turns 21 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.