John Polson has to delay our phone interview by 45 minutes because of a bit of an emergency in his New York office: he is executive producer on the CBS TV series Elementary (yes, another Sherlock Holmes-inspired production, also showing on Australia’s TEN). When we finally connect, he sounds un-emergencied. Maybe he’s used to it; he’s been doing the show (and directing some eps) for several years. Besides, a year ago Polson faced a really big emergency, when the management company of his iconic short film festival, Tropfest, told him it was $500,000 or so down the gurgler. A month or so before the event.
But that’s one of those things that as it didn’t kill him or Tropfest – they have both grown stronger. And as it heads to its 25th anniversary in February 2017 (a five day feast from February 7 and culminating on February 11), Tropfest will be doing so at a new venue: Parramatta Park.
Parramatta City Council was one of the many callers after the shock of the festival’s near death experience, inviting the festival to find a new home. Every state in Australia made similar calls, but Polson had no desire to move the festival out of its birth state of NSW if he could avoid doing so. And along came CGU Insurance (apt, really) to provide the necessary financial life support to make Tropfest live on.
“After the disaster,” he says, “we reviewed the whole thing from the bottom up. We are now a not for profit organisation with a new board*, and we are making a bold move to Parramatta. Most importantly, Parramatta Council had the enthusiasm and hunger for Tropfest. The Domain [the first big venue after the Tropicana café in Kings Cross where Polson started it] was great … not perfect, but no venue is. Centennial Park [the most recent venue] was great, but not perfect. The support wasn’t there. I felt we had been treated like a big corporate brand event. We didn’t get the enthusiasm package …”
Parramatta, says Polson, “showed they wanted to really embrace Tropfest. They want to really make it an event, with flags and posters and a general awareness campaign. And I’ve always wanted Tropfest to be for everybody, not something for the elite Eastern Suburbs crowd. So what better way to demonstrate that than going to Parramatta, the demographic centre of Sydney.” Of course the Eastern suburb crowd, who have thronged to the event throughout its past, will be more than welcome. Tropfest will now be held on Saturday night instead of the traditional Sunday, “so people can stay late, maybe even stay overnight nearby, and not have to get up for work the next morning” says Polson.
Tropfest, the free festival of short films – 16 finalists competing for a range of prizes, but more importantly for a potential to get a leg up in the world of professional filmmaking – is reborn - and hoping to attract about 70,000 people to its 25th annual event, to maintain its standing as the world’s largest short film festival. And beyond that, its mission statement calls for it to deliver a raft of programs that encourage emerging talent to participate in the film industry. Events include Tropfest, TropJr and TropTalks, which all form part of the multi-day celebration of Australian film.
“We have always aimed to develop and grow and not get stale,” says Polson.
*The new Board: John Polson, Fiona Nix, Robyn Watts, Dan Brush. Head of Philanthropic Activities: Dr George Miller.