Tropfest's 'balloon' challenge gives films flight

Cate Blanchett arrives at Tropfest 2012.
Cate Blanchett arrives at Tropfest 2012.

With just over three weeks before the January 3 deadline for entries for Tropfest, Henry Kalaf, the Tropfest film and entries manager, has a sinking feeling about the responses to the 2013 Tropfest Signature Item (TSI) – "balloon" – that are soon to grace his screen.

"I think floating balloons up onto a ceiling will probably be something I will have seen a lot of," he sighs.

He says that from the approximately 100 entries he has watched to date, it is clear that many Tropfest entrants have remembered too well the floating plastic bag motif from American Beauty. "There is a lot of that."

Not that the entries haven't been creative with their balloon usage. "I haven't really seen a pattern with the balloon TSI," says Kalaf. "Some people have used it in their title. Others have used it as a motif throughout. It's even become a character within the film."

Kalaf is tasked with taking the first look at Tropfest entries, and is receiving about five films a day. He watches three of those on average to check for technical concerns. "We have a pre-selection team that actually judges the films in January. I won't watch all of them. I'll try and watch about 60 per cent before they go to the pre-selectors."

Tropfest is on-course to achieve its aim of a new record number of entries. "We're going to push the 800 mark," says Kalaf. "We've had just over 150 so far, which is on par with other years. Typically we'll get about 500 films in the last three days."

As well as the time commitment, this represents a significant financial investment by filmmakers. Kalaf estimates that on average this year, people have probably spent about $1000 on their films.

"You have the spectrum," he says, "you have the films that have been made for $50 and I think the most expensive film has probably been $50,000."

Kalaf is surprised how many of those budgets have been raised through crowdsourcing – using online portals to accept donations from strangers. “It's really interesting to see the support they've got from people in the wider community.”

With quantity seemingly assured, Kalaf is also confident the TSI will deliver top films. "I think it is up there with the greats. It's probably made people have to work a little bit harder ... but it's given them an opportunity to be as creative as they like.”

And so far he isn't sick of balloons. "Not yet," he says. "I don't think I've seen enough. I think in January I think I will have had enough."

This story Tropfest's 'balloon' challenge gives films flight first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.