As we stood at the black carpet anticipating host Hugh Jackman‘s arrival at Tropfest, a massive outdoor short-film festival held on Saturday in Bryant Park, we eavesdropped on a conversation held behind us between three robust fans of the actor. “I came all the way from Wisconsin to see him!” one of the women screeched to her companions. ”Yeah? Well, I got this custom shirt made,” another woman said, pointing to her shirt with a giant portrait of Mr. Jackman printed on it.
Tropfest originally started in Australia and has spun off into several other countries, and Saturday was the American debut. Tropfest’s founder John Polson discussed the festival with The Observer. “It’s really a celebration and an event more than a festival,” he said. “Geoffrey Rush has called it as close to rock and roll as filmmaking gets. It’s free, and the afternoon is amazing and has everything, even live music. It’s really unlike any film festival.”
At least ten thousand film lovers waited on blankets and lawn chairs, anticipating the arrival of the guest celebrity judges—Rose Byrne, Judah Friedlander, Jennifer Westfeldt, Ted Hope and Scott Foundas—and the screening of over a dozen short films.
Mr. Friedlander was quick to tell us about his new album (“Gotta promote that shit,” he explained) and was throwing stickers left and right to anyone who would take them. The lovely Ms. Westfeldt gushed to The Observer briefly about how excited she was to be at the festival as a judge.
The celebrity judges headed to their crow’s nest viewing stage, and we wandered over to the VIP section where we found drinks from Aussie brands. A two-story flatscreen sat at the opposite side of the park and streamed live footage of festival guests dancing, red cups in hand. The whole thing had a Coachella vibe, minus the surplus of feather hair extensions and war paint.
Mr. Jackman made his grand entrance to the stage to a roaring ovation. He and Mr. Polson discussed the past 20 years of success the festival has achieved. Mr. Polson explained, “Over the years, we’ve been thrilled to have explosive audience growth and an increase in the caliber of talent we’ve been able to attract, which has resulted in so many success stories we’re truly proud of.”
The evening then began with a showcase highlighting the “Best of Tropfest” films from the last 20 years of the festival in Australia, and then moved on to the nominated films of the night. We laughed, we cried, we sipped Australian wine. In the end the winner was “Emptys,” a short film about can collectors in Portland directed by Josh Leake. The moment the musical theater nerd inside of us has been waiting for our entire life was finally fulfilled when Mr. Jackman and Mr. Leake sang “New York, New York” together in front of the massive crowd. We can only hope the aforementioned group of robust women were able to witness Mr. Jackman’s impromptu performance.
Follow Spencer Rothman via RSS.