"I don't think it's snap decisions, and by the way, what's wrong with going with your heart?"It certainly seems like a well-oiled machine. The hundreds of applicants who submit their films, which must include a signature motif (this year's was "balloon") forego copyright, leaving the company to distribute their work as it wishes. The 16 final films are screened, in addition to its live audience and national broadcast, on The Sydney Morning Herald website. A free DVD is included in Fairfax papers. Melbourne-based filmmaker Clint Cure believes this puts some filmmakers off. "If you get selected, you get exposure but you can't really do anything with it," he told Crikey. "You can't send it off to another festival. It's very rare for other festivals to do this. Some do it, but you're not exclusively owned by them." Over the years numerous A-list Hollywood stars have thrown their weight behind the festival. Last night Avatar star Sam Worthington presented the top prize, the coveted Tropfest fruit bowl trophy. Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce beamed in with best wishes via a pre-recorded video message. Past judges include Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Russell Crowe, Samuel L. Jackson, Keanu Reeves, Sam Neil, Ewan McGregor, Salma Hayek and Gabriel Byrne. Local celebrities also star in the shorts themselves. The appearances of well-established actors in a festival that gives the appearance of fostering a DIY ethos is a regular criticism. Polson, who picks all the finalists himself, dismisses this. "This year, two of Australia's best-known actors were in a film that didn't get shortlisted. So that's what I say about people complaining about the celebrity factor," he said. Worthington joined a panel of judges that included Magda Szubanski, Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney. Polson says the judges first watch the 16 films with the audience on the same night and spend around 10 minutes at the end determining the winners. This means they inevitably rush to judgement on the film's most important prizes. He countered: "Listen, this is Tropfest, what are you going to do? Turn this into the Sydney Film Festival, deliberate on it, and put it in the paper two weeks later? This is what it is. It's live. It's fun. I don't think it's snap decisions, and by the way, what's wrong with going with your heart?" Two decades of rubbing shoulders with Hollywood's elite seems to have boosted the organiser's profile. Polson has directed Hollywood movies such as 2005's Hide and Seek, starring Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning, and 2009's Tenderness, staring Russell Crowe and Laura Dern. "Actually," he said, "to be honest, I think it's damaged my career pretty badly. "But I have no regrets about that. The people who hired me for Hide and Seek and Tenderness probably didn't even know Tropfest existed." *Additional research by Crikey intern Michelle Slater
Tropfest phenomenon comes down to heart, Polson insists
Has Tropfest got too big for its own good? Crikey speaks to organiser John Polson after another wildly successful event in Sydney -- which some filmmakers refuse to enter.