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Better Than Sinatra

Meet Raymond Borzelli - elderly pensioner with a passion for music.

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Pensioner Raymond Borzelli was so pleased when he found out he'd won $3000 in Tropfest that he yelled his thanks to the Hollywood actor who was giving him the cash.

They're on their way to meetings, they stop to watch him and their faces light up. It's an amazing sort of contagious vibe that he puts out there 

"Thank you Shane Worthington!" the 86-year-old proclaimed. He really had no idea who Sam Worthington was.

Pensioner Raymond Borzelli  who stared in the Tropfest 2013  documentary Better Than Sinatra  by director Jefferson Grainger. He was in Pitt Street Mall, Sydney, meeting well wishers along with the director. English tourist Bex Davis 26 from London , who saw the film last night, gets her photo taken.

Raymond Borzelli, who stared in the Tropfest 2013 documentary Better Than Sinatra in Pitt Street Mall, meeting well wishers including English tourist Bex Davis 26 from London. Photo: Peter Rae

Many Sydneysiders may be familiar with Borzelli, who two or three times a week takes a bus from his small flat in Balmain into the city to dance to the music of buskers.

And many more will get to know the elderly man's grooves after he featured in a documentary, Better Than Sinatra, which scooped second prize at Tropfest on Sunday.

In the six-minute documentary, Borzelli talks of the struggle living on a pension, and occasionally having to borrow "$10 out of one chap here and another chap $20" just to make ends meet. Tinned spaghetti is one of his staple meals.

Tropfest favourite ... Raymond Borzelli.

Tropfest favourite ... Raymond Borzelli.

But that doesn't dampen his passion for music, and each week he pulls on his Dunlop Volleys and visits the Pitt Street Mall, Hyde Park or any other place where buskers are playing. His jigs often leave the crowds smiling.

Unveiling the winners on Sunday night, Worthington chose to go off-script and offer an impromptu $3000 award to Borzelli, who sadly was not present for the ceremony at The Domain.

The 'dancing busker' - who doesn't collect money for his routines - will receive his cheque for "best personality". But he did not turn up to the ceremony on Sunday night, sparking a city-wide hunt for him.

Actor Sam Worthington and festival founder John Polson arrive at the Tropfest Short Film Festival. Click for more photos

Tropfest 2013

Actor Sam Worthington and festival founder John Polson arrive at the Tropfest Short Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Better Than Sinatra director and producer Jefferson Grainger said he tried desperately to track down Borzelli on Sunday.

"We lost him yesterday. We were like, ‘Where in the world is he?’," Grainger said.

"We had cops searching CCTV footage for all the busking sites in the city. We had people in Pitt Street and Darling Harbour looking for him, and Hyde Park, and people at his house, banging on his door.

"And he was asleep. He had already had a big day of dancing and he said he had to look after his health so he crashed in bed."

On Monday morning Grainger was able to contact Borzelli, who thanked "Shane Worthingon." He also shed a tear when he realised he was front-page news and had won $3000.

Borzelli tried to split the money with Grainger, an offer which he politely declined.

"You see films that have got millions of dollars thrown at them and you walk away feeling nothing, and this one was made for $125, which is what I paid him. I gave it to him out of my pocket, said 'It's my day off, let's just go out'. He just likes talking to people.

"He [Borzelli] tried to give me my money back. When I told him about Sam Worthington, he wanted to split it with me.

"It's not tainted by anything. There’s no agenda. He's just real."

Grainger said he came across Borzelli one day as he was attempting to shoot a time-lapse sequence in the Pitt Street Mall.

The pensioner kept dancing into it and ruining the shot, Grainger said.

"I'm like 'Wait a minute - he is the better shot', and then I filmed him dancing then, I just had my camera on," Grainger said.

"Raymond is a legend, an enigma, but he really does exist. He goes into the city two or three times a week when it's sunny and he dances to buskers and people stop, busy people. They're on their way to meetings, they stop to watch him and their faces light up. It's an amazing sort of contagious vibe that he puts out there. He doesn't get paid, the buskers don't know he's turning up."

One of Borzelli's favourite buskers is a Japanese man who plays the wooden flute in Hyde Park.

"He plays a lot of good old songs. I get up and I dance with him, but he never gives me any money. They're all bloody misers, they are," he says in the documentary.

Asked if he has missed his calling, Borzelli says: "Yes. I think I'm better than Sinatra.

"I've got more power, more masculinity and I'm taller. I'm better looking."