Tropfest, which calls itself "the world's largest short-film festival," started in Australia 21 years ago; it's since expanded to several continents. This year, for the first time, its New York iteration will be in Brooklyn—in Prospect Park, on the Nethermead, on June 22. We spoke to festival founder John Polson.
So, why the move to Brooklyn?
Brooklyn and Prospect Park just feel right for Tropfest in New York. Last year, so many filmmakers and members of our audience made the trek across the river to see Tropfest in Manhattan. This year we thought we'd bring the festival to them! There are tons of young filmmakers here. And right now it feels like the eyes of the world are focused on this city-within-a-city. It makes my commute easier, too, since I live here!
Why Prospect Park? Are you worried about the criticisms leveled recently
at the Great GoogaMooga about the damage large events do to the park?
Not at all. Tropfest is a very different event. Our footprint is much smaller for one thing; we're basically just a stage and a screen. We will have food available, but it will be up on the Center Drive and away from the grass. And we're only one day long, which I think makes a big difference. The additional space in Prospect Park will allow more people to enjoy a really fun evening of short films and music, all for free.
What makes Liev Schreiber a good choice as host?
He's perfect because he's obviously a known and respected actor, but he's also a writer and director—like his feature film Everything is Illuminated, which I loved—not to mention his incredible success on stage. I've gotten to know him over the years, and he's a really generous spirit, which is what you need for hosting Tropfest. This is the night of nights for the young filmmakers who are in the finals, so having someone with the experience of Liev but also the generosity, and the understanding of what it's like to have sleepless nights over making your film… perfect.
What's the state of short film today?
Based on the submissions we’ve received here and around the globe, it's thriving. To me, short film is the most independent of "indie" film, because the budgets are generally micro, so there's really nothing standing in between a filmmaker and his or her vision. Short film is also growing because it's the perfect format to watch online or even on your phone. When Tropfest started 21 years ago, many people didn't know what a short film was. That's definitely changing.
What other things could get more people to watch short films?
Online is a great way to find short films. Basically YouTube or Vimeo or any other platform that has them. It's incredible what you can find if you just look for it. Look up your favorite filmmaker's student shorts; it can be lots of fun discovering what's out there.
Why do you think short films are ghettoized in a way that short stories aren't?
It's true, they have been in the past. But we're trying to change that by showing some films that could almost be a feature film in your local independent cinema, except that it's less than seven minutes! We're trying to help find the filmmakers of the future, who could easily be making the next Zero Dark Thirty, or even the next Batman, if they wanted to.