MEL Gibson has walked the red carpet of the festival that almost wasn’t.
As Sydney’s Tropfest got underway in Sydney’s Centennial Park on Sunday night, Gibson strode straight by working media on his way to help judge the 16 finalists in the short film festival.
Fellow adjudicator, The Mentalist star Simon Baker, followed suit while others were willing to stop and express their relief the festival had actually gone ahead.
“I feel incredibly relieved, much more than usual,” founder and director John Polson told AAP.
“Usually when we get down here if the weather’s OK and the crowd is here there’s a sense of relief. This is a big one, though, because of what happened. For most of the last three months it was hard to know if we’d get here at all.”
Actress Rebecca Gibney, also on the panel, met Gibson just before the festival kicked off.
“He’s lovely. He’s very funny. I’m sure we’re going to get a few laughs out of him tonight,” Gibney said.
She judged the festival in 2013 but feels it has more significance this year.
“It means a lot because it’s celebrating emerging film makers so we really need to keep it. And it’s great, obviously Sydney cares because they’re showing up in droves,” Gibney said.
The Dressmaker director Jocelyn Moorhouse was also on the judging panel.
This year’s Tropfest short film festival was won by LA duo Spencer Susser and Daniel Cloud-Campos. The pair created a stop-frame animation with real clothing called Shiny.
“It’s basically all of my wardrobe, all of Cloud’s wardrobe and all of everyone else’s wardrobe that we knew,” Susser said. The film’s message looks at how people are obsessed with material things and how this can get in the way of everything else.
Susser is part of the same film collective as Australian filmmaking brothers Joel and Nash Edgerton, Blue-Tongue Films.
In fact, it was seeing the short film festival’s infamous pineapple trophy, won by Nash Edgerton in 1997, around the production office that inspired Susser to enter the competition.
“My friend Nash Edgerton had won several years ago. So he had been talking about it forever. All I knew was Nash was part of Tropfest and there was a pineapple, because I’d always seen this trophy sitting around the office,” the US winner said.
Gibson awarded the first prize to Susser, which included $10,000 in cash and a round trip to LA, on stage. The Oscar-winner, who has been in Sydney directing World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, remained relatively quiet all night. He didn’t engage with media and only spoke briefly while awarding the trophy to Susser.
“There has to be one winner and it’s sad, but it’s great for Spencer Susser and Shiny,” the Breaveheart actor told the crowd at Centennial Park.
After a 23-year run, Tropfest was cancelled in November due financial difficulties and the alleged mismanagement of funds but sponsor CGU Insurance stepped in to make sure it went ahead. Polson is confident he can work out a solution to make sure the festival is sustainable.
“We’re working with a big adviser which we’ll be announcing in the next week or two. They’re going to come in and help us rebuild the way the company works,” he said.
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