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Tropfest: here’s a capital idea

Suzanne Porter, Chief Executive, Taranaki Arts Festival Trust: Late last year the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust announced that it had secured Womad for another three years, but not the short film festival Tropfest NZ.

It’s a bit sweet and sour, because retaining Womad is a great result for Taranaki, but to farewell Tropfest will be a blow for our blossoming national film industry.

It is not simply a case of Tropfest being moved somewhere else. As it stands the largest short film festival in the world will have no home in New Zealand in 2017.

But I think this event is deserving of a new lease on life for more reasons than one – and I also think if we mimicked the Australian model it would be a winner nationally. Sydney is the home of Tropfest Australia, but the event is shown simultaneously in seven Australian cities.

We have to accept that for Tropfest to continue in New Zealand it must be made attractive to a corner-stone sponsor who is prepared to underwrite the event. It’s more likely than not this sponsor would want to see the event staged in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch for maximum exposure.

In New Plymouth my board has shown a willingness to be innovative to the point of taking risks to try different events. We have retained our three major festivals, Womad, the Powerco Taranaki Garden Spectacular and the Taranaki International Arts Festival, while shelving the likes of Kinetika and the Right Royal Cabaret Fest, safe in the knowledge they can be dusted off and brought back when the time is right.

The infrastructure of Tropfest is such that it cannot be put on hold in the same way, so when the board signalled last year that in the present economic climate it could not support it beyond 2016, it was ominous.

Is it worth keeping alive? Yes it is.

John Polson (producer and director on such shows as The Good Wife and The Mentalist), launched Tropfest as the Tropicana Short Film Festival in 1993.  It has had its moments with financial issues in Australia, but has expanded internationally to New Zealand, North America, South East Asia and the Middle East.

Of the 6000-plus who watched the event in New Plymouth last year, 97% said they would come back and 87% of contestants said they would submit a film for the 2016 event.

It has high profile backing… former Australian judges include Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Will Smith, Elijah Woods, Sam Neill, Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise.

Unlike Womad, it is a one-night event, which makes finding an underwriter more challenging. But as an indication of its popularity, more than 100,000 people go to the Sydney event and it is also screened on television.

For New Zealand film makers it also offers prizes money can’t buy in the form of time in Los Angeles and a five day workshop.

Taranaki Arts Festival Trust has run four Tropfests, is well known in the industry as a result, and has the infrastructure in place to continue organising the New Zealand section of it in the same way Sydney does, even if it is based in a major centre.
So is there a natural fit for Tropfest away from Taranaki?  I think there is. 

Wellington realised a good 10 years ago that it was losing the television industry to Auckland. It then positioned itself to become New Zealand’s home of film. Indeed, its 2012 Events Policy speaks of maximising the advantages of being home to creative, cultural and artistic leaders and developing events relating to the film industry in Wellington such as exhibitions, expos and festivals.

Tropfest for Wellington? If we can find an underwriter I think it would be a capital idea.

*If you are not a Tropfest devotee, perhaps a look at the three-minute long 2008 Tropfest NY winner will convince you. Check out `Mankind is no Island’ on YouTube

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1 Response

  1. I was a pre-selection judge for Tropfest NZ in 2013 and 2014, and. Finalist judge last year. On these occasions I have been very impressed by the professionalism of the organisation, and the enthusiasm of Taranaki locals for the event,. It has also been a competition I have urged students to focus their energy on, in terms of prize money but also prestige. It has produced films of high quality; certainly better thought-through and better filmed than the outcomes of other NZ-based film competitions,
    I hope TropfestNZ has a future,