Q&A: Tropfest founder John Polson on how the short film festival can be saved

The past four months have been the most challenging ever for short film festival Tropfest, which was cancelled due to a lack of funding and then saved by a sponsor. In this Q&A Tropfest founder John Polson talks about his hopes for the future of the festival, potential legal action, and how the cancellation led to positive changes within the organisation.

john polson tropfestYou launched a bid to crowd-fund money to help rescue the festival in January, which fell well short. Why do you think you did not raise the required amount through crowd-funding?

“Speaking honestly, the Pozible campaign was put together hastily at a time when we were (understandably) very distracted with trying to rebound from November’s disaster and stage the February event.

“We received some criticism on Pozible early on which, once I saw it, I actually agreed with. I think the idea of spending half of the potential $100K raised on a ‘strategic review’ was a mistake in hindsight – and thankfully no longer necessary with EY’s support. [Over the weekend auditors, EY, announced a deal to help Tropfest find a new business model].

Tropfest founders start $100,000 crowd-funding campaign to find ‘sustainable business model’

Tropfest future again looking uncertain after crowdfunding attempt falls woefully short

“I think people wanted to support Tropfest, but they wanted to feel their money was going towards something more tangible than an internal review – like staging the actual event.

Once I realised that, I lost faith in the campaign myself and pulled back on it – even though I could see a lot of ways where we might have hit the target with the time we had.

“It’s disappointing that we were not successful with the campaign, but Pozible is an amazing platform and I feel confident we’ll be back soon at a more stable time for Tropfest, and with a better understanding of how the Australian public would like to support us.

Tropfest's Pozible appeal fell well short

Tropfest’s Pozible appeal fell well short

When the festival was cancelled in November you said you would seek compensation from the company contracted to organise it, Tropfest Festival Productions. What is the latest regarding any legal action you are taking against TFP?

“I am continuing to work with my lawyers on it almost every day. We’re yet to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, but I’m confident the truth will come out.”

According to reports there are several creditors as a result of the TFP issues. Have these creditors received their money?

“As far as I know, many people and companies are still owed money from TFP and none of those debts have been paid.”

There are also reports TFP’s Michael Laverty has, or is going to, lodge legal action against you regarding comments that there was a “terrible and irresponsible mismanagement of Tropfest funds”. Have you been informed that legal action is being taken against you? And do you stand by your original conclusion that terrible mismanagement took place?

“There have been various threats of legal action against me but none have commenced, to my knowledge. Yes, I stand by my conclusion and stand by the statements I made, which were made based on indisputable documentation.”

Are you any further forward in understanding what exactly happened with TFP?

“I’ve learned a lot about how TFP was run in the past couple of months, so yes I feel like I know a lot more about the situation. At this point, though, I’ve still never been given access to the TFP books, which I’d need to see to understand the detail of what happened financially.”

Do you expect Tropfest to take place in late 2016?

“We are in the process of figuring out whether Tropfest will go back to its December date in 2016 or we will stick with a February date in 2017. This is dependent on a number of things, but we expect to announce that and much more in the next couple of months.”

Around 100,000 people attended Tropfest in February

Around 100,000 people attended Tropfest in February

Can you divulge the financial arrangements with EY?


Will you personally take a more hands-on role in organising future Tropfest festivals and have greater financial oversight?


If there is a silver lining here, it is that these events have re-engaged me in Tropfest in a way I haven’t been engaged for several years at least. At a personal level, it’s reminded me of how important Tropfest and its original mission still is to me and to many other people.

“I have every intention of being very hands-on in the restructure — including greater financial oversight — and our direction for the foreseeable future.

Simon Baker and Mel Gibson were among judges this year

Simon Baker and Mel Gibson were among judges this year

You mentioned in the EY statement that you and a small team have explored ways to rebuild for the long term. Can you elaborate on that and what initial conclusions have you have come to?

“Most of our focus in the past couple of months has been on getting Tropfest back on the road for our Valentine’s Day event. I’m open-minded about working with EY in the weeks ahead and am reluctant to draw early conclusions. But I’m confident about our early conversations and fully believe a Tropfest 2.0 will come out of this that is better, stronger and more transparent than before.”

You’ve said Tropfest will remain a free event for the public, but will you look to increase the price for film makers to enter?

“No, the price for filmmakers will never be any more than most other film festivals.”

Finally, apart from increasing the number of sponsors, where can you expect to attract more money?

“I’m expecting to explore some potential new revenue streams via our EY review but they won’t include charging general audiences for attending or filmmakers higher entry fees.

We may explore things like VIP packages for fans who don’t want to wrestle with the crowds and maybe want to enjoy some food or drink, but the majority of space at Tropfest will always be free.

“And we have lots of other ideas we’ll be exploring for raising revenue so we can become more sustainable, but in a way that won’t change the DNA of what Tropfest is.”

John Polson was respondoing to questions from Steve Jones


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