Tropfest, world’s largest short film festival, to debut in Brooklyn

Now in its 21st year, Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival, is making its Brooklyn debut in Prospect Park on June 22. Founded by John Polson, an Australian-born, Brooklyn-based filmmaker, Tropfest has become an important launching pad for aspiring filmmakers with minimal resources, offering artists the chance to present their work to an audience of tens of thousands. 

It’s very exciting what’s going on [in Brooklyn], where there are so many artists and filmmakers and writers. I genuinely believe it’s one of the creative centers of the world,” Polson told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a recent interview.  “We are excited to be in Brooklyn this year with incredible judges and great sponsors to help keep this tradition alive and growing.”

This year’s festival will be hosted by Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Liev Schreiber. Tropfest announced this spring a new partnership with SHOWTIME, and its other 2013 partners include Entertainment Weekly, the Motion Picture Association, NBC 4 New York, WNYC, the Village Voice, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. 

Among this year’s judges are author Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point), WNYC host Leonard Lopate, and Academy Award-winning producer Fisher Stevens (“The Cove”). “I have no doubt Fisher, Malcolm, and Leonard will have some tough decisions ahead of them,” said Polson.

Polson, an actor, producer and director, started Tropfest 20 years ago in Australia, when he made a short film on his own and organized a screening at a local café. Polson made the six-minute film for under $100, and while he thought the audience would consist of just a few friends, he was amazed to find 200 people show up. Realizing the support and excitement surrounding short films, Polson was inspired to offer to other filmmakers a similar experience.

Today, Tropfest has become a global festival with events and screenings in Arabia, Asia, Australia, Europe, India, New Zealand, the U.S. and elsewhere. The festival attracts hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of attendees. True to its humble and communal origins, Tropfest events are free and open to the public, and anyone is invited to enter the competition (though this year’s submission period has already ended). The winning film receives a sizeable $20,000 prize, and past winners have gone on to enjoy impressive success (The FX series “Wilfred” with Elijah Wood began as an Australian Tropfest short).

Each year, the festival has a theme or a signature item that must be referenced in the films. This year’s item – a bridge – is especially fitting. Polson explained that when the bridge theme was chosen, he’d had his eye on Brooklyn, but was not yet sure of where the event would take place. “We chose ‘bridge’ just because of New York, really, and it was so funny – I told my graphic designer that the signature item was bridge, and he sent me artwork of the Brooklyn Bridge... so it was this perfect storm of circumstances.”

Last year’s second place winner in the U.S. was Alexander Poe – a descendent of Edgar Allan – who made his film just a week before the festival’s deadline. With low expectations, Poe was delightfully surprised to accept an award from presenter Hugh Jackman.

As the event is free, it relies exclusively on support from corporate sponsors. “We’ve managed to pull together some really great sponsorships,” Polson told the Eagle. “I’m really hoping that this year goes really, really well. We’re inviting a lot of potential partners for next year; I want to make this an official annual event in Brooklyn.” 

The festival this year will feature a free yoga class set to movie scores (presented by Brooklyn’s Prema Yoga), as well as bands and DJs including Brooklyn-based duo Chairlift, who will headline the event. At 8 p.m., Schreiber will appear to introduce the screenings. “The best part of it, of course, is the films,” Polson told the Eagle.

Tropfest New York will be free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended. To reserve a space, visit

John Polson, founder of Tropfest, is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. Photo courtesy of Kinetic for Tropfest NY 2012