Tropfest: Iconic Aussie Short Film Fest Canceled Due to Mismanagement of Funds

Susan Sarandon - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Susan Sarandon - H 2015

The 23-year-old festival, which has kick-started the careers of director Gregor Jordan and actor Joel Edgerton, won’t go ahead on Dec. 6

Tropfest, the iconic Australian short film festival and competition, has been canceled just one month ahead of its 24th edition on Dec.6  due to what founder and director John Polson said was “a terrible and irresponsible mismanagement" of funds.

Often billed as the largest short film festival in the world, Polson said Tropfest’s cancelation was “devastating.”

“In the past week or so, I have been made aware that the company contracted to raise the funding and administer the Tropfest event is unable to move forward for financial reasons. Despite a challenging sponsorship climate, Tropfest has done reasonably well in attracting support this year; however, to my great surprise, the management company has informed us that it is unable to proceed,” Polson said.  

Polson, an executive producer and director on CBS series, Elementary, retains creative control over the event that he founded but hands sponsorship and event management to a third party company.

A discrepancy of six figures in the festival's finances managed by a company contracted to run the event means it cannot go ahead, Polson told Fairfax, and Australian news agency.

He has reportedly started legal action against the unnamed management company.

Polson put together the competition at the Tropicana cafe in Sydney’s Darlinghurst area 23 years ago, which has grown in that time to be an integral part of the Australian summer. Tropfest is often credited with kick-starting the careers of filmmakers like Gregor Jordan, comedian Rob Carlton, and siblings Nash and Joel Edgerton, who have been finalists in the competition.  Winners receive mentoring, cash prizes, cameras and a huge media profile.

The night time open air festival, at which 120,000 people turn out at a Sydney venue to watch 16 finalists screen their films and celebrity judges choose the winners, is broadcast live to other sites in cities around the country then broadcast on delay on TV.  

Tropfest also has strong Hollywood connections and patronage. Susan Sarandon was named as the jury president this year, while stars like Baz Luhrmann, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Samuel L. Jackson and Toni Collette have appeared on the jury in years past. Kidman sponsors the annual best actress award.

International editions of Tropfest take place annually in New York, Southeast Asia, Arabia and New Zealand, and a kids competition, Tropfest Jnr regularly runs alongside Tropfest.

It is unclear how those international editions will be affected. “This is about the Tropfest brand being vulnerable but my main concern has always been Australia. That's where it started. That's where it's biggest,” Polson told Fairfax.

"Of course, I want those to exist, but I almost don't want them to continue without Australia because it's like the tail wagging the dog. It's such an Australian event."

While the 16 finalists out of the 450 entries this year have been chosen, but not yet announced, the local film industry and supporters are scrambling to provide alternatives for this years event. Streaming service Presto, a sponsor, said it was looking at how it might assist the festival by screening the finalist entries online, and there’s been talk of a crowd funding campaign to raise money to allow the festival to proceed in some form.