This weekend Tropfest will again rock the picturesque natural amphitheatre that is the TSB Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Having won Tropfest in 2015, I’m reflecting on the year that’s passed – and what a year it’s been!
Tropfest N.Z. is managed by the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust and sponsored by the Motion Picture Association and the New Zealand Screen Association. First established by John Polson in Sydney, Australia, Tropfest has grown to become an annual event in five global regions. This free, open-air celebration of emerging filmmakers is attended by thousands and judged by film industry luminaries. Actor Geoffrey Rush has said it’s “as close to rock and roll that filmmaking can ever be”.
Last year Tropfest N.Z. happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. I had a hunch that a romantic comedy might fare well on such an occasion and, when my producer’s mother suggested an inspired way of incorporating the 2015 Tropfest Signature Item (wire) into our story, I sensed our film, Every Moment, stood some chance of entertaining the audience.
The big night was memorable for many reasons, not least the high calibre of competition and the hardiness of 9,000 audience members. Despite a chilly breeze all remained enthusiastic and supportive to the end. My team and I were delighted when Every Moment was awarded Best Film, Best Actress, Best Maori Filmmaker and the Audience Favourite Award.
In addition to some lovely trophies, we were handed a sizeable cheque, enabling us to recoup the cost of our self-financed production. Also, I was sponsored by the MPA to attend a filmmaker immersion programme in Los Angeles in November. This programme was conceived seven years ago as a way of introducing Latin American filmmakers to the Los Angeles screen industry. It appears it’s unlike anything else out there and, having expanded considerably, it’s somewhat akin to the United Nations of filmmaking. I was delighted to find myself alongside filmmakers from Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria and Vietnam.
Run with supreme efficiency and flair by Steve Solot, CEO of the Latin America Training Center (LATC), and producer Daniel Dreifuss, the programme spanned one week. We were based at a hotel with a very cool, retro Hollywood vibe, The Garland. Over the course of the week we participated in sessions with some of the best and brightest in the business; from WME agent Eric Rovner to Jane the Virgin producer Gary Pearl, from talent manager Ari Lubet to actor James D’Arcy – to name but a few. All were extremely encouraging and generous with their insights. In addition, we attended social events on the Warner Bros. backlot and at the Writers Guild of America. Our week culminated with a trip to the American Film Market, which was just then kicking off.
I elected to remain at A.F.M. for its duration. This was my first time at such a market and I found it to be a remarkable eye-opener. Sure the conference sessions and round table discussions provided fascinating insight into the current state of the biz, but for sheer entertainment value can anything beat watching movers, shakers and wannabes working the lobby at Lowes? These weeks were educational and fun in equal measure. I renewed longstanding friendships and forged many new ones. I returned to New Zealand with a deepened understanding of many facets of the industry as well as a sharpened sense of focus and ambition. I feel privileged to have had such an informative and motivating experience and I’m immensely grateful to those who made it possible; Tropfest, the MPA and the New Zealand Screen Association.
This coming weekend, as a judge at Tropfest 2016, it will be my pleasure to pass the baton to other emerging filmmakers. I wish all participants every success and know that the winners will forever look back on this as a very special moment in their journey as professional storytellers.
About Gabriel Reid
Gabriel Reid has worked in theatre, film and television as an actor, writer, producer and director. He has held staff positions at TVNZ and Opera New Zealand and has created award-winning broadcast promos, network idents and short films. Dr. Reid secured his Ph.D. in Film Studies with a thesis examining the impact of digital technologies on film production. He undertook research at Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, Blue Sky Studios, Animal Logic and Weta Digital. For his Masters’ thesis, which examined Shakespeare on film, he undertook research at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal National Theatre and Renaissance Films. He is presently developing a slate of film projects and is a member of the National Executive Board of the Directors and Editors Guild of New Zealand (D.E.G.N.Z.).
Update: On February 27, Tropfest NZ first place went to Hannah Taylor for her film Back ‘o the Bus. Taylor’s film tracks a family mission to the United States to visit her dying grandfather, and explores her father’s recollections of racism growing up in the 1960s during the civil rights movement. Hannah will join other filmmakers from around the world in November at the film immersion course in Los Angeles, supported by the MPA and NZSA.