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  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • Full Frame
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • None
  • Additional footage - the winners and their speeches, 22 min
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Featurette - history of Tropfest, 2 min
  • Behind the scenes footage - crowd arrival timelapse
  • TV spot - Tropfest trailer

Tropfest 2002

Tropfest/Tropfest . R4 . COLOR . 81 mins . M15+ . PAL


Up until recently, the art of the short film was a vital but obscure one. Lots of them got made, of course, even when there was no readily accessible way to see them. Lean, compact mini-movies that are the cinema version of the novella or short story, short films provided an ideal platform for student filmmakers and others who wanted to be creative on a low or non-existent budget. But the thorny problem of how to get people to see your five-minute labour of love was something not easily solved. Institutions like Swinburne in Melbourne or the Film and Television School in Sydney have long organised special screening nights for their students’ short films and some have successfully been sold to TV stations as filler material or to cinemas as something to give people that little bit more time to be late. But compared to feature-length films, options have traditionally been limited. Home video, the salvation of visual art deemed not commercial enough for a cinema release, has not been an option for short films - people might be happy to shell out $15 for the latest Kylie video on DVD, but would they pay for a story-based film that’s over before they get comfy on the couch? The music video analogy might give you a clue as to the solution.

Experiencing the kind of growth in a mere ten years that would be the envy of even the most ambitious of arts festivals, Tropfest, which grew out of a modest night at Sydney’s Tropicana Cafe run by actor John Polson, has become more than just a festival of or competition for short films. It’s become an event, one which now sees over 100,000 people around the country showing up for the Tropfest awards night (held in Sydney in front of a massive crowd, it’s also broadcast live on big screens in other venues around the country). The 2002 event scored an even bigger audience than that, thanks to Channel Ten’s screening of a Tropfest special a few weeks later containing the finalists’ films - something that will hopefully become an annual event. And in another first for Tropfest, this year’s 16 finalist films have been made available on DVD (as well as on VHS!) in a compilation that’s a kind of visual compilation album - The Best Short Film Album In The World Ever, if you like.

With the incredibly high standard of entries in previous years and a remarkable entry pool of 611 films of all shapes and sizes, the finalists were always going to be well worth taking the time to watch. And you won’t be disappointed - 2002 is a terrific Tropfest year, and there’s not a bad moment to be found here (nor a dull one, for that matter). The rules of the game are simple - every film must be a maximum of seven minutes long, and each one should contain the Tropfest Signature Item (which for 2002 was declared to be “match”). The films also have to be making their public debut at Tropfest. Aside from that it’s anything-goes, and some wonderful cleverness is the result.

(In an effort to keep this review from breaking new records for length, each film’s approximate aspect ratio, source format and audio are listed after each description.)

Hommes Du Jour (Bryan Moses): The delicate art of preparing lightly roasted human is one thing, but just try getting the ingredients onto the bench. (Full frame video, mono)

The Arsonist’s Riddle (Ben West): Even matches have feelings, and just like people they hate getting burnt. Extremely clever effects work here. (Full frame film/video, mono)

Boomerang (Carla Drago): You can’t take it with you. Except when it won’t flush away, in which case you have to. (1.78:1 film, mono)

Late Night Shopper (Tim Bullock): Ever thought your local supermarket seems a little dead at night? This could be why. This mini-thriller is exceptionally well directed. (1.78:1 film, mono)

The Flying Nut (Dean White): Shoe terrorism, apparently animated by an Amiga! (Full frame video, mono)

Lamb (Emma Freeman): In the middle of a harsh drought a father, his blind son, a lamb and a dog vie for survival. (1.85:1 film, mono)

Wilfred (Tony Rogers): Everyone knows someone who gets along better with their pet than they do actual people, but what happens when you confront a dope-smoking, DVD-watching, decidedly human dog while on a date? (1.66:1 film, mono)

Murbah Swamp Beer (Gary Doust): When a huge truck loaded to the gills with expensive beer crashes into a river near the small town of Murwillumbah, it’s first come, first served. This is, by the way, a genuine documentary! (Full frame video, mono)

The Thing In The Roof (Walter Repich): Don’t worry, it’s only a possum. With big, sharp, pointy teeth and a nasty growl. Alright then. Be afraid. Features Secret Life Of Us cast member Todd MacDonald. (1.78:1 film, stereo)

F.A. (Marie Craven): Not about football, and not the acronym you’d expect either. (Full frame video, stereo)

Tragic Love (Gary Eck): When you’ve got famous peoples’ phone numbers, making your movie is that little bit easier. Includes the best Schwarzenegger vocal impersonation since Tony Martin’s Late Show effort. (1.78:1 video, stereo)

Tiny Little Pieces (Trent O’Donnell, Phil Lloyd): For everyone who’s ever gone off at someone for stealing their car space and then had guilt pangs. (Full frame video, stereo/mono)

Clouds Weep On The Greenness (Suda Narayana): A kind of visual poem, with an autobiographical story (subtitled) that’s indirectly relevant to the current government’s divisive immigration politics. (1.78:1 video with full-frame subtitles, mono)

Matchbox (Julius Avery): Meet your match, box. (Full frame film, mono)

How Am I Driving (Tim Dean): Ever wondered how beat poetry would translate to the video age? Ever wondered if anyone uses Citylink without an E-Tag? (Full frame film/video, stereo)

I Can’t Get Started (Charles Williams): A pissing contest. Literally. Perfectly photographed by Ellery Ryan (Spotswood, Death In Brunswick, Angel Baby, Cosi... and of course The Secret Life Of Us). (1.85:1 film, stereo)

The DVD presents the finalist films separately, each playable from its own item in a master menu. But there’s no way of playing all the films, which add up to about 81 minutes’ worth in total, as a single continuous feature, which is a shame - it would have been trivially easy to add such an option during authoring, especially as all the films are encoded together as one long video stream. And here’s where problem number two crops up - the entry and exit points for each film have been coded on the disc extremely inaccurately at times, so after watching a film you’ll often hear some audio or see a few frames from the next film before you’re thrown back to the selection menu. On a couple of occasions - most notably with Matchbox and How Am I Driving - important seconds are separated from the film they belong to. It’s a pity nobody checked the disc before manufacturing, and we hereby volunteer to road-test next year’s edition!

DVD authoring screw-ups aside, though, the quality and strength of the short films on offer here makes this disc a must-buy for anyone who’s hungry for free-thinking independent cinema. And with the DVD priced at a measly $22, nobody needs to starve.


As you would imagine with a compilation of this sort, video quality is a fairly mixed bag, with the on-screen result dependent on a number of factors - shooting format, camera quality, editing method, master format and generation, telecine and so on. To the credit of all involved, none of the 16 short films look dreadful on DVD, though the consumer-video origins of a couple are rather obvious. The film-sourced material fares best, with seriously nice telecine work on many of the films proving the directors’ decision to use the supposedly arcane and old-fashioned celluloid format to be a wise one. We’re not about to impose big-studio quality expectations on no-budget films like these, but quite a few here look very nice indeed on DVD, with plenty of depth and detail.

The aspect ratio of the films varies, but all are presented on DVD with video that is, not surprisingly, not 16:9 enhanced (though this would theoretically have been possible for some of the widescreen entries here had this disc been authored with 16 separately-encoded titles, one for each film - presuming, of course, that any of the masters were in a 16:9 format in the first place).

Along with the extra content there’s over two hours of video on this single-layered disc, but the disc authors have managed to use a reasonably high encoding bitrate and there are few visual problems in that department.

The disc’s enforced startup delay is 26 seconds, during which time only the eject button will save you.


All audio on the disc is encoded as a Dolby Digital 2.0 stream, but the actual audio format depends on the individual film - ten are mono, the other six in stereo. The audio is cleanly encoded and problem-free, presenting the source material as intended.


Yes, there are extras! Tropfest is, after all, both an event and a competition, so along with the films it makes sense to showcase both of those facts.

History Of Intel Tropfest: Short films, short history! This very brief piece offers a quick visual rundown of the ten-year growth of Tropfest in a minute and 50 seconds, with music (in mono) by the rather good but lately very elusive band Lino. Video is of varying (but mostly average) quality.

Intel Tropfest Trailer: Directed by Patrick Hughes, who won the Best Film award in the 2001 Tropfest competition, this amusing little promo stars Joel “Uncle Owen” Edgerton in bed with a bewigged Kimberly Davies. An extremely high-quality 4:3 transfer, letterboxed at 1.85:1; sound is stereo.

The Crowd: Truth in advertising! This is a two-minute time-lapse overhead video shot of the huge Sydney crowd arriving. If you were there, see if you can spot yourself, and if you’re a rich bastard that lives on the Sydney foreshore, you can probably see your house from here. Full frame, mono sound.

The Winners And Their Speeches: We’ve been saving the best for last. This compendium of the various awards being presented (by some rather untalkative famous people!) and the winners’ speeches is a terrific inclusion, simply because it allows you to effectively run your own mini Tropfest final in your lounge room. Watch the finalists, then play this and barrack for your favourites (that’s why we haven’t given away the winners in the above review). It’s just like running your own Oscars, except with more interesting films and without anyone thanking their god or their agent. Running for 22 minutes (and unlike the finalist films, these segments will play in sequence uninterrupted if you let them) this is in full frame with mono audio.


Whatever you think of corporate sponsorship, there’s no denying that it’s been nothing but a Good Thing for Tropfest, which in its tenth year has grown to the point where it’s not only a major event on the Australian film calendar, but also a cultural phenomenon in its own right. The remarkable volume of entries submitted these days is quite amazing, especially considering the complexity of making even a straightforward short film - but ten years on, the quality and cleverness is undiminished.

Sydney people who read the Sydney Morning Herald scored themselves a free copy of this SMH-sponsored DVD a while back (and we encourage the Fairfax folks to extend that to their other national papers next year!) but don’t let that put you off paying actual money for this collection for one second. It's a bargain, and worth every cent.

(Note that this DVD is currently only available online from the Sanity.com web site - click the link over on the right in this page's "related links" sidebar - but it can also be ordered from any Sanity Music store in Australia.)

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      And I quote...
    "...a must-buy for anyone who’s hungry for free-thinking independent cinema... a bargain"
    - Anthony Horan
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