US Tropfest winner: Empty
After nearly eight hours of programming and in front of a capacity crowd of more than 10,000 people, Tropfest – the world’s largest short film festival – concluded in New York with Josh Leake of Portland, Oregon claiming the top prize for a film called Emptys, made for merely $1300 dollars.
The aspiring filmmaker beat out seven other hopefuls in the first ever U.S. Tropfest competition, and earned $20,000 from the Motion Picture Association (MPA).
Alexander Poe came in second and Matt Hulse rounded out the top three for their films The Break-Up Tour and Elvis: The Lonely Hunter of Circle-Beach, while Ian Unterman and Eliza D’Souza earned best actor and best actress honors for their starring turns in The Break-Up Tour and Elevator respectively.
An all-star panel of judges including Rose Byrne, Jennifer Westfeldt, Judah Friedlander, producer Ted Hope and Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Scott Foundas deliberated for 15 minutes before rendering their verdict, which event host Hugh Jackman announced shortly before 11:00 p.m.
Leake and his film Emptys captivated the audience and jury with its story of can collectors in the greater Portland area. The poignant film profiles several can collectors who use revenue from recycling to subsist and is a timely look at a cross section of society living below the poverty line. In a spirited acceptance speech which saw Leake call his mother on speakerphone with Jackman to tell her he won in front of thousands, and ending with him serenading the crowd in a chorus of “New York, New York” with Jackman, Leake, fighting back tears, emphasized the need to recycle.
“I still can't believe I was given this opportunity. With all these great films to compete with it's hard to accept I won, I feel like I'm dreaming,” said Leake. “I was excited to tell the story of these people and I thought it was genuine. Good stories will conquer all no matter what it's filmed on and what it looks like. If people take anything from the film I just hope they start recycling.”