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The Reeler Blog

Slice of Life

Falconer Bob Leporati in Bird Strikes, one of the New York shorts in this year's Tropfest @ Tribeca (Photo: Tribeca Film Festival)

By Mat Newman

The original Tropfest short film festival was held in Sydney, Australia 14 years ago. Those first films were shown and judged in the Tropicana Café, a local hangout of struggling filmmaker and Tropfest founder, John Polson. It has since become the largest short film festival in the world, with more than 150,000 people attending outdoor screenings and the films beamed live to cities all over Australia.

Polson's own steadier work, including directing Robert De Niro in the 2005 thriller Hide and Seek, led to the 2006 debut of Tropfest @ Tribeca as part of the "drive-in" portion of De Niro's Tribeca Film Festival. (See The Reeler's previous coverage here.) The event returns to Battery Park City this Sunday as a stand-alone event and one of New York's last outdoor screenings of the year.

"I think it's going to be a bigger and better event than it was last year," said Paola Freccero, the festival's co-executive director. "Last year was great, but it was the first time, and I think it was a chance to test the waters. This year there are bands performing; there are more sponsors than ever that have come on board. Target is giving out a $10,000 prize, which is an amazing opportunity for a short filmmaker. Not only that, but the audience gets to participate in the process. They get to vote and then see their results as it happens. It's a very instant-gratification kind of evening."

The catch (for filmmakers, anyway) is how each film must include the Tropfest "signature item." Last year it was a manhole cover; this year it's simply "the slice." Without giving too much away, the 16 finalists interpretations couldn't be more dissimilar: there are dramas, comedies, short documentaries and animated work from all over the globe. The competition is dominated by New Yorkers, however, with 10 of the 16 finalists hail from the boroughs.

"Total fluke!" Freccero said. "There were a lot of submissions from New York, but there were a lot of submissions from everywhere. It just so happened that New Yorkers were kicking some butt when it comes to the quality of their films. It's great because hopefully that means the filmmakers will be there, their family and friends will be there and you'll really feel the competition among them to see who's going to win. It was a total happy accident."

This year's judges include actor-directors Griffin Dunne and Tom McCarthy, actress Rose Byrne and filmmaker Bennett Miller, while performances by Haunt, SecondDan and DJ Shorty will precede the screening at 5 p.m. The 12 final selections will begin around 8 p.m., along with a 30-second short created as part of a cell-phone video competition earlier this month.

"It's an incredible representation of what you can do with very little money and a whole lot of creativity," Freccero said. "If we can get the message across that it's not really about your bucks or your connections but your creativity, then I think we've done our job."

Tropfest @ Tribeca screens Sept. 23 at the World Financial Center; the event is free. Visit Tribeca's Web site for more information.

Posted at September 20, 2007 8:03 AM

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