This is a guest post by John Polson, the founder and director of the world’s largest short film festival, Tropfest. Entries are now open for Tropfest 2011, and for the first time it’s a truly global initiative - finalists will be flown from anywhere in the world to the festival screening in Sydney on February 20, 2011. John talks here about how Tropfest came about.

There are two things I know about good ideas: They almost never happen overnight and they’re almost never borne of a single person.

Certainly, that’s how it was for Tropfest. Today, the world’s largest short film festival attracts a crowd of around 150,000 in Sydney each February, as well as thousands more in New York and other cities at other times of the year.

But it certainly didn’t start out that way. I made a short film when I was 27 and, unable to afford a cinema, decided to screen it at the Tropicana café in Sydney where much of it was shot. Expecting around 20 cast and crew to show up, I arrived on the night to find 200 people there, waiting to see my movie.

The film was pretty average (it was called “Surry Hills: 902 Spring Roll” so that gives you some idea…) but the night was an undisputed triumph. Dozens and dozens of people crammed into the café, trying to get a glimpse of the screen I’d borrowed for the occasion.

Almost immediately, this one-night event took on a life of its own, largely because of the enthusiasm of a whole new breed of young filmmakers that were hanging around the Tropicana Café at the time, looking for something to pour their creative energy into.

So what was it that grabbed us all that night? I believe, without realizing it, we were tapping into something that’s inside all of us: the basic human desire for story.

People need stories. Cavemen would come back after a big hunt, frustrated that they weren’t able to convey the emotion and excitement of what they’d been through, so they’d tell stories – paint pictures – so that others could feel like they were right there with them.

Stories about other people give context to our own lives. They’re used for entertainment, for teaching, and for passing on knowledge and wisdom. The technologies we use today may be new, but storytelling itself is anything but.

Speaking of technology, there has never been a better time in the history of the planet to pick up a camera or a mobile phone and tell your own visual story. People share their stories every day (see here for some Tropfest highlights from the past few years). This year, we’re proud to continue to empower storytelling through YouTube, and we’re calling on you to submit your short film for the 19th annual Movie Extra Tropfest competition. You can be of any age and nationality, and for the first time ever, any filmmaker from outside Australia whose film is chosen as a finalist to screen at the festival will be flown to Sydney, Australia, for the event on February 20, 2011.



You can find all the guidelines for submission here, and entries close on Thursday January 6, 2011 at 6pm (Australian Eastern Daylight Time).

So if you’ve got an idea, or even if you haven’t, pick up a camera and see what happens.

Here’s a story for you: a guy makes a short film and 150,000 people show up. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

John Polson, Founder and Director of Tropfest, recently watched Lucky.