Feb 28, 2013

Review of Tropfest 2013

by Chris Vlahonasios

The most valuable information a filmmaker can ever obtain is judges’ and audience’s feedback. Although this is not made publicly available I have provided some brief analysis of each film, including: audience’s responses, production values and my personal opinions.

My critique and opinions are based on five years experience of having managed my own festival, the Queen St Film Festival. I would weigh up the key elements of each film then decide whether the audience would enjoy them.

Overall, most of this year’s Tropfest finalists were of exceptional quality. They were effective films which communicated well with their audience. However, some overestimated their hype. Compared to previous years the quality was quite high.

You can view this year’s finalists (and the last few years) via Tropfest’s YouTube channel.

Also, read the OFA article about tips and strategies on winning at Tropfest, click the link:

Watch the films first then read my notes as they do contain spoilers.

2013 winners
1st: We’ve All Been There by Nicholas Clifford
2nd: Better Than Sinatra by Jefferson Grainger
3rd: Punctured by Nick Baker and Tristan Klein
Best Actress: Laura Wheelright for We’ve All Been There
Best Actor: Nick Hamilton for Time
Best Personality in a Documentary: Raymond Borzelli, Better Than Sinatra

The finalists
Great Day
Aloof, goofball humour. Lagging at the start before picking up midway. Disapprove of drug and sex scene. Audience responded well to the thugs who acted like stereotypical “Australian-wog” hooligans. Milkshake “dramatisation scene” was too long and lacked creativity. Although it had humorous parts, it was not enjoyed throughout by the audience.

This was the filmmaker’s first short film and it felt very much so. More experience and maturity required.

Let it rain
Slap-stick humour playing homage yet mocking classic action films. South Park style comedy: unrealistic situation matched with characters’ absurd overreactions. Audience enjoyed the childishness of these men-boys playing commando with water guns. Scenes effectively captured the action.

For the first 3-4 minutes I lost interest as I was bored and confused. The main character was going on and on about the concept of time travel – too much dialogue.

However, this was a film of two halves. It then became extremely emotional, suspenseful and uplifting. The audience was engrossed and you could feel the tension in the crowd. There were feelings of: anticipation, fear, grief, hope and surprise. Skilful directing and excellent acting. Beautiful cinematography, great bush scenery along with a powerful music score to heighten the emotion.

Scene 16
Perfect example of art imitating life, even in soap operas. We see a relationship inevitably tested when the actress enacts the scene on her boyfriend. It causes him to express his true feelings, revealing how much he loves her. You could connect with her grief when she realises she may have jeopardised her relationship, although we are left hopeful, just like the script, they won’t break-up.

Despite the nudity it was an engaging drama with some depth.

Felt very much like a first year film school project, perhaps even a high school film. Story was by-the-numbers, quirky but something we’ve sort of seen before. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and neither did the general audience.

Powerful film. Raw acting, very convincing and at times terrifying. A film about self-expression misunderstood. Poignant story, especially as mental illness is such a big issue.

A white, sterile room: blank canvass. A girl suffering a mental condition: needs to paint. The doctors couldn’t understand her because they were only observing her from the outside.

The real punch came as the drugs kicked in, she looks up at her work: a glorious blue and red sunset and a yellow hot-air balloon – symbolic of freedom. She cries a blue tear, the colour of water to a child, perhaps revealing her true state of mind. She could only escape her cell through painting. Audience was left feeling empathetic and sadden by her situation.

A complex film with many layers. I think this should have been the winning film.

The pledge for mister bunny
I did not like this film at all. It started off oddball and quirky but ended quite distributing.

The boy goes through the carwash and comes out brunt, torn and bleeding resembling the undead. It was disguising, although it could be viewed as a cautionary tale to kids. Overall, it was not an enjoyable film. The only positive was the rich colour palate which gave the film vibrancy.

Cash cow – a 63% true story
Too long-winded, too simplistic and too dull. Predictable and crass.

Came across as shameless self-promotion for the network and program depicted.

A father’s struggle to save his new-born son after becoming a zombie. I don’t understand some filmmakers’ obsession with zombies – maybe it’s because of their easy scares. In this case it was used to illustrate a father’s will against an almost hopeless situation.

It did provide some emotional tenderness but that could have been better expressed through other means.

A time-jump style film in which events slowly unfold. The key attraction was TV star from Underbelly: the Golden Mile and House Husbands, Firass Dirani. I didn’t find the performances that powerful and the storyline was not that intriguing. However, the ending was unexpected which generated a response from the audience.

A warm and heartfelt film about love, disappointment and hope.

This animation was a very creative piece containing lots of “textures” and details, such as, the buildings made of Mandarin newspapers. The abstract nature of this surreal world and defiance of physics were all used to emphases the inherit beauty amongst the bleakness of everyday life. The music helped tell the story about discovering true love.

Better than Sinatra
A simple documentary. Very low budget and shot in half a day. Lowest production values screened at the Festival.

Audience connected to Raymond, an unusually character, who would be identified as an “Aussie larrikin”. I think it was the sense of empathy people felt for him because he lived alone and poor but managed to find great joy and happiness on the streets. People were genuinely happy for him and I heard many in the crowd think of him reminding them of their grandfather – there was a deep personal connect with the film.

This film was very similar to an earlier Tropfest film, Buried, that screened several years ago, but this was from Mexico.

I loved the desert scenery which generated much intrigue. Simple story with a one-line punch. However, a film about burying one’s wife alive did not tickle my fancy.

The Hustle
An Ocean’s Eleven try-hard. For a film essentially about gambling, it was not glamorous or stylish. Although it was about low-level hustling the filmmaker could have tried to make it more gritty, like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels style. I didn’t feel the audience was really buying it. I really disliked the main character and the ‘twist’ could be seen coming a mile away. It was a tedious film that needed more work.
* I am not endorsing gambling, just critiquing the film.

A man walks into a bar
Another one-liner film. Yet again, the ‘twist’ or ‘punch’ could be seen a coming a mile away.

We’ve all been there
A story about ‘doing the right thing’ although the title of the original book, What goes around comes around, is a reference to karma. However, the film showed how an act of kindness by one stranger could affect the lives of others.

The performances were solid, but I didn’t think the mature lady should have won Best Actress; it should have been Inside.

The cinematography was spot on, generating the right moods at the right times. For example, the sense of isolation and fear when the lady’s car breaks down and a tattooed stranger comes by.

However, I felt the time-jump method used was a little confusing as I wasn’t sure of the order of events til later on. Although that was its purpose, but it could have been done a little better.

Overall, it was an uplifting and positive film which was well appreciated by the audience, hence why it won Best Film.

1 comment:

Kieran Cato said...

Thanks for the positive feedback regarding the film -Inside. Filmmaking is about relating to an audience and it is great to see you understood this film and the many layers. I was personally disappointed to see that Shannon Ashlyn was not awarded with the best female actor award. It was great to see Rebecca Gibney give her some praise moments before announcing the winner went to the female actor from 'We've all been there'.

Kieran Cato
Producer of Inside