Tropfest on up and up

Tropfest, the world's biggest short film festival, returns to the Illawarra on Sunday with a live broadcast at the Wollongong Botanic Gardens' Sunset Cinema.

As this year's Tropfest signature item is a balloon (all films entered must include a balloon in one of the scenes), the Wollongong screening has a balloon theme. A hot-air balloon will be tethered at the Botanic Gardens for the evening, and a balloon twister will be roaming the crowd entertaining children.

Tropfest started 21 years ago as an informal short film screening for cast, crew and friends at the Tropicana Cafe in Sydney.

It has grown exponentially since then and now attracts a live national audience of more than 150,000 people.

The main event is staged in Sydney's Domain with live satellite links to Melbourne, Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Surfers Paradise and Wollongong.

The 16 finalists were selected from more than 700 entries and are competing for more than $100,000 in prizes.

"We had a lot films entered this year, which we were very pleased with," Tropfest managing director Michael Laverty says.

"The standard of the films was very high, the production values were fantastic. It's going to be a great festival.

"The 16 finalists are really great films, and same with the Trop Jr films."

Trop Jr is a separate competition for filmmakers aged 15 and younger.

"We are very excited with the quality this year, but again it is good every year."

Laverty says there is an enormous variety in the style and subject matter of this year's finalists. There are dramas, comedies, animations and even a zombie film.

Some of the films star well-known actors, others feature up-and-comers and amateurs.

Laverty has a fairly simple formula for what makes a good Tropfest film.

"A great idea, a great story and great performances," he says.

"While production values are important, we don't necessarily add any emphasis on that so your budget can be in the thousands of dollars or a lot less. A number of our winning films have been made for $50 or $60."

Organisers of the Wollongong screening will be crossing their fingers for better weather than last year, when torrential rains meant the event had to be moved indoors to the University of Wollongong.

Laverty advises those coming this year to make an event of it.

"Come along, have fun, bring a picnic and a blanket," he says.

Festivities start from 3pm with live music, belly dancing, face painting and fortune telling.

There will be a vintage tea party stall along with other food and drink stalls.

The Trop Jr finalists will be shown on plasma screens in the bar area during the afternoon and the official festival programs starts at 7.30pm with the 16 finalist films screening from about 8pm.

Event details

Wollongong Botanic Gardens, Sunday, 3pm-11pm

Free entry

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