Tropfest Short Film Festival Crowns All-Star Winner in Las Vegas (Video)

James Woods Tropfest P 2012
Erik Kabik

Toni Collette presided over the live jury and Tobey Maguire announced a new 70-seconds-or-less contest at the debut Las Vegas satellite of Australia’s popular short film festival

Sydney, Australia-based Tropfest, known as the world's largest short film festival, brought its fun, laid-back embrace of filmmaking to Las Vegas over the weekend in a free, three-day at the Strip's Cosmopolitan Hotel. The debut Las Vegas event celebrated Tropfest’s 20th anniversary. Two nights of informal screenings, which included musical performances by Allen Stone and Delta Spirit, culminated on Sunday, June 3, with a screening competition of 16 of the best short films from Tropfest history.

The "best of" films were judged by a star-studded panel, presided over by Aussie actress Toni Collette, which included Tobey Maguire, Anthony LaPaglia, Griffin Dunne, James Woods, Down Under actress Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), Sundance Film Festival director of programming Trevor Groth and screenwriter/producer Charles Randolph (Love and Other Drugs). Actor and comedian Rob Corddry was the host of the evening.

All 16 films (running seven minutes or less) were screened poolside at the Cosmopolitan before a live audience, after which the jury briefly conferred and chose Sean Ascroft's film The Story of Bubble Boy as the winner of a $5,000 prize sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film tells the story of a man so afraid of life he covers himself and everything around him in bubble wrap. "It's beautifully rendered and the writing is quite beautiful," Randolph told THR. "It's all told in these sort of lovely 19th-century cadences." See the short film in the video below.

The same night, Maguire announced a new competition: the Tropfest/Mobli Micro Film Festival, a brainchild of the actor. The film festival, in partnership with mobile photo and video sharing application Mobli, will allow entrants to upload mini-movies of 70-seconds or less, which the public can vote on. Two winners, one chosen by the audience, the other by jury, will each receive $10,000 awards.

At the event, Tropfest founder John Polson stressed that one of the things that makes Tropfest unique is that tickets are always free. "This is a free celebration of emerging talent," he said. "That's part of our culture and part of our business model. The event is very expensive to put on. We get great corporate sponsors to pay the bills and support us. We charge filmmakers very little to enter. And we let the audience come and enjoy the movies for free. That's who we are and what we do." The night was capped off with a performance by singer/songwriter L.P.

Founded in 1993, Tropfest now draws a crowd of 100,000-plus spectators every February in Sydney. Each submission must be a new work created for the festival; to help ensure that, each film must include a TSI or Tropfest Signature Item. 2012's TSI was a lightbulb, while past ones have included a teaspoon, a coffee bean and an umbrella.

"We don't care if it cost $20,000, we don't care if it's shot on a mobile phone, it's not about who you know, or how rich your parents are. It's about talent rising to the top," said Polson, who noted that ten of Tropfest's 20 winners over the years have gone on to direct feature-length films. The FX sitcom Wilfred, starring Elijah Wood and Jason Gann, about a man and his friendship with his neighbor's dog, started life as a 2002 Tropfest short film starring Gann. It was developed as a successful Australian series before making its way Stateside.

Randolph praised Tropfest's role in highlighting and curating the best in short films. "What I find interesting is that the promise of the Internet as a distribution mechanism for all kinds of popular culture has not been fulfilled yet for short films," he said. "There's no sort of editorial consciousness out there guiding us in any way. Tropfest has emerged as this great way of getting your films seen by people in the industry who matter and then giving them a stamp of legitimacy that’s really helpful."

As for Tropfest’s first foray into Vegas, he added, "it’s so unusual, and great, to watch films outside, at least it is for me. What I was really surprised was by how the crowd didn't feel like your typical Vegas crowd that just wandered in. It felt like real film people who came out specifically for it."

Tropfest's 20th-anniversary celebration will next take it to New York City where it will put on a three-day short-film festival June 21-23 with a free final event hosted by Aussie Hugh Jackman.