Lazarus act as Tropfest returns in February

It’s back on … Tropfest founder John Polson. The crowd settles in for Tropfest at Centennial Park last year. Photo: James Alcock

One of this year’s finalists … Tay Man, a mockumentary directed by Angela McCormack about men who are closet Taylor Swift fans.

Supporting Taylor Swift … David Collins in Tay Man.

Delighted … this year’s Tropfest finalists at the announcement in Centennial Park that the festival is back on. Photo: Garry Maddox

Tropfest cancelled after ‘huge hole’ in fundingFunding gap twice what Polson had been toldPolson hopeful of reviving TropfestMovie session timesFull movies coverage

Less than a month after a funding crisis forced it to be cancelled, Tropfest is back from the dead.

On the day the iconic short film festival had been due to be held in Sydney’s Centennial Park, founder John Polson announced it would now take place in February with a new sponsor – CGU Insurance.

The company had come forward after the shock announcement last month that a debt “well into six figures” had led to the festival being scrapped.

“It’s been some pretty serious highs and lows over the past few weeks,” Polson said. “Probably more lows than highs but this is definitely a high.”

Polson said the company had signed up at a time he thought Tropfest was probably finished.

“I didn’t see a way to rebound from what had happened but there was a groundswell of support from all corners of Australia, from people on the street to big businesses.”

Flanked by actor-director Simon Baker and the the finalists from both Tropfest and Trop jnr, Polson said the festival would take place on February 14.

While he would not specify whether CGU was covering Tropfest’s debts as well as running costs, Polson said its backing was “certainly enough to say this event is happening”.

The support is initially just for one festival but he is hoping for continued support.

The hugely successful festival, which began with short film screenings at Sydney’s Tropicana cafe in 1993, costs substantially more than $1 million a year to run.

With an audience in the hundreds of thousands both in Sydney and live sites around the country, and with a live television broadcast on SBS2, it had been due to have Hollywood star Susan Sarandon as head of the jury.

Polson cancelled the festival after discovering a hole in its finances while in discussions with managing director, Michael Laverty, who handled day-to-day management through Tropfest Festival Productions.

Polson is continuing legal action against Laverty – “as far as I know, he’s disappeared,” he said – while re-employing three staff who were laid off.

“I’d like to think this is purely about bad business judgement and management but I really have no further idea at this point,” he said. “Not a lot of information has been forthcoming.”

Polson has been thrilled with the public support for the festival that had emerged since it was cancelled.

“It’s been incredible to be getting calls from the CEOs of some of the biggest companies trying to figure out how they can help,” he said.

“People have had a bit of a wake-up call. Tropfest is an iconic event, a very important event in the cultural calender of Australia. And as much as it feels like a community event that’s supported by the government, the truth is it’s vulnerable.

“If nothing else great comes out of this, people have suddenly realised that this thing does need support in all sorts of ways – it needs financial support, it needs audience support and we need celebrities to come out to judge.”

While Tropfest has backing from Destination NSW and Screen NSW, Polson said he had been surprised by the lack of support from Premier Mike Baird after a pitch to the state government.

“Many people have asked what has the NSW government done since this crisis,” he said. “The truth is not a lot at this point.

“We had hopes for some more help in rebuilding our company and rebuilding this iconic – let’s be honest – very Sydney event.

“There have been calls from other parts of the country saying ‘what about us?’ But I’ve been surprised we haven’t had just a bit more support at this point from the NSW government.”

Polson said he was working with advisors on how to rebuild the company, with new systems for financial governance and possibly a board to avoid another financial crisis.

“In my opinion, we’ve done nothing wrong but respond as best we can to a terrible situation brought about by bad management,” he said.

One of the Tropfest finalists, Angela McCormack, said it had been a rollercoaster ride since she learnt her first film had been selected.

“It was a bit of a shock to begin with, finding out, like everyone else, the sad news,” she said. “For a while there we were thinking that our films were resigned to [staying in] a bottom drawer and never really seeing the light of day, so we’re really thrilled to have [the festival] back.”

The 22-year-old social media producer from Triple J’s Hack made the finals with Tay Man, a mockumentary starring Colin Lane, David Collins and Craig Anderson as secret fans of a certain pop singer.

“It’s about guys who have a closeted obsession with Taylor Swift, perhaps not unlike Premier Mike Baird,” McCormack said. “He’s basically a Tay Man.”

The NSW Premier’s enthusiasm was revealed in an Instagram post last week that said: “A great thing about having daughters: you can pretend THEY’RE the reason you are at the Taylor Swift concert.”

Also among the 16 finalists are documentaries on punk band Radio Birdman and former boxing world champion Jeff Harding and a slapstick animation about a pinata.

The irony of the new date is that Tropfest shifted from February to December to avoid the rain that had plagued the event at the end of summer.

“I’m not saying we’re going to land back in February after this,” Polson said. “But a lot of people seem very happy about February.

“We did move for a reason but then again, the weather is unpredictable. We got rained out in December last year.”

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