By Andrea Domanick
It was a big night for the little guys Sunday as Tropfest celebrated 20 years of short films at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas’ Boulevard Pool; the evening also marked the inaugural U.S. portion of the international festival.
The night was themed “The Best of the Best,” a competition among 16 winning films from Tropfests past screened before a full, but not packed, crowd who came out for the free event. Stars and filmmakers, including judges Toby Maguire, James Woods and President of the Jury Toni Collette, walked the black carpet for the final night of the three-day festival, which also featured film-themed parties and music performances.
Collette beamed in a flowing black gown and golden curled locks, a far cry from the skirt and swimsuit she wore when she stumbled into the first Tropfest as a teenager. Though the star-studded event has considerably upped its glamour factor since the first festival was held two decades ago in a Sydney, Australia, cafe, the evening was ultimately defined by the fun, casual spirit first instilled in it by founder and film director John Polson.
Locals and hotel guests alike curled up on cushions and lounge chairs with drinks and popcorn, while others took advantage of the floating pool beds. With the warm breeze and quiet, languid atmosphere, the evening felt more like a day at the beach than a night at an international film festival (and holds great promise for The Cosmopolitan’s new “dive-in movie” series).
Though perhaps things felt a little too relaxed at times -- host and comedian Rob Corddry, normally a guaranteed chuckle, was the first to admit that The Cosmopolitan’s cocktails had gotten the better of him. The drinks unfortunately fueled an onslaught of cheap-shot jokes (“Hey, fat people on the Strip! You’re down there getting drunk, but we’re up here watching short movies!”) that time and again fell flat on an audience that just wanted to get on with the show, and not, as Corddry repeatedly implored, get another drink.
Hosting faux-pas aside, the evening’s 16 short-but-sweet 7-minute films consistently drew gasps, laughs and applause from the audience with topics that ranged from the moving to the absurd. There was “Boo,” a comedy about an old couple who prank each other by pretending to die; “Mankind Is No Island,” a film shot on cell phones on the streets of New York and Sydney; and “Fishlips,” the story of a family narrated from the point-of-view of their pet goldfish. Each vignette functioned as a self-contained story and yet still managed to leave the audience wanting more, a true testament to the merit of short films as a medium and the international success of the festival itself.
Needless to say, having to select a winner from what was already the cream of the crop was no small feat for the judging panel. Ultimately, director Sean Ascroft took home top honors for his film “The Story of Bubble Boy,” the tale of a sad outcast’s struggle to shield himself from the world around him. The film won 3rd place at Tropfest 2006 and this time gave Ascroft the Motion Picture Association of America-sponsored first prize of $5,000.
Though the audience dissipated after the winner was announced, those who stuck around were in for a real treat with a flooring performance by singer-songwriter LP. Uplifting, playful and inspired, the set was a perfect conclusion to a night of film and storytelling that could certainly be described as the same.