SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
The director of the Sydney Film Festival Nashen Moodley maintains that, “… the cinema experience remains one of the most vital ways to engage with the wider world”. Although it may be an obvious statement he hits the nail on the head because film is certainly the most popular visual arts medium worldwide. Now in its 65th year, the Festival is the highpoint of the Sydney cinema calendar precisely because it offers so many diverse global stories, guaranteeing 12 days of venturing into unknown territories and new worlds in a vast array of countries, 65 of them in fact.
The main focus is, of course, the Official Competition, home of the Sydney Film Prize. The 12 films in contention, according to the SFF program, must move “the art form forward. Innovative, provocative or controversial, they broaden our understanding of the world and say important things in original ways.” There’s an interesting Australian film in this section which certainly fits that brief. It’s called Jirga and it’s a drama shot entirely in Afghanistan. Other competitive strands are the Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship, which offers as many as four winners $50,000 winners each, the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary and the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films.
Sidebars include Focus on Italy, a showcase of the best new Italian cinema, Europe! Voices of Women in Film, 10 films from female directors, Sounds on Screen, a series of music documentaries that includes profiles of Joan Jett, Whitney Houston, M.I.A. and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Essential Kaurismäki, a retrospective of the work of the great Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki , and Freak Me Out, which looks at the weird and wild side of movies and is “devoted to everything from exploitation extravaganzas to ‘highly unusual’ arthouse items.” (SFF program). Add to these sections devoted to feature films, documentaries, family films and art films and you’re assured of finding a trove of titles to suit the most rarefied taste.
Indeed, there’s such a rich assortment of films on display that it’s difficult to single out any particular titles for special mention. There are new films from established directors like Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Christian Petzold (Transit), both of which are in the Official Competition, plus Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces, Wim Wenders’s Pope Francis - A Man of His Word, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, all the subjects of Special Presentations at the venerable State Theatre. Then, of course, there is a host of tyro and sophomore directors, up-and-comers with their first and second films, and it’s often this fresh material that is most exciting, where discoveries are made.
Of new Aussie features, look for 1%, a thriller set in the world of an outlaw motorcycle club, Brothers’ Nest, a blackly comic drama about two brothers trying to commit the perfect crime, Chocolate Oyster, a largely improvisational comedy about 20-somethings trying to make it in hard-scrabble Sydney, The Second, billed as “a steamy psycho-thriller about a successful author struggling to deliver her hotly anticipated second novel,” and Strange Colours, a story about the human flotsam and jetsam that drifts into the mining town of Lightning Ridge… and stays there.
For younger viewers, Maya the Bee returns in a new Australian/German animation, Maya the Bee: The Honey Games, and there’s an Oscar-nominated animated film about an 11-year-old Afghan girl who poses as a boy to help her family, The Breadwinner. Live action-wise, there’s a spooky story from NZ aimed at a YA audience, The Changeover, an Iranian film about a gang of rich kids committing a robbery for kicks, Dressage, another story about a different kind of gang, skater girls, set in NYC, Skate Kitchen, and a delightful documentary following five Labrador pups as they go through their two years of training to become guide dogs for the blind, Pick of the Litter.
A wealth of subjects are covered in the International Documentaries section, from food and fashion to true crime, war and life in a refugee camp, plus pretty much every topic in between. So we’re spoilt for choice – there are 37 feature-length docs on offer – and then there’s the Australian docs, another 10 to choose from. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
So, ‘12 Days in June’ could be the title of the movie I’ll be watching when the 2018 Sydney Film Festival opens. As the Festival’s tagline puts it, there have been “65 Years of Stories” in the history of the SFF - may there be 65 more years to come.
All information, titles, schedules and booking details can be found here.
Habaneros is Julien Temple's music-filled tribute to Havana. It contains rare archival footage of the Castro years and includes interviews with local Habeneros who give a comprehensive view of the changes over the years, including the recent visit by Obama, the Rolling Stones concert and the uncertain future with the current President of the USA. This is a fabulous, informative documentary and not to be missed!
The Marriage is set in the shadow of the Kosovo War and is a superb feature debut for Blerta Zeqiri. A young couple are preparing for their impending nuptials when a visitor from the past arrives and leads the groom to mixed emotions. The film took five years to make and is a brave and provocative piece of film-making, not least in its own territory.
The Seen And Unseen is one of three films in competition that does not have Australian distribution, which means the festival screenings were your only opportunity to experience this moving piece. Directed and written by Kamila Andini, it deals with childhood grief and mortality. Set in rural Bali, the physical and mystical world, combined with a mesmerizing score, beautiful photography and compelling performances, transports its audience into another realm. This is an hypnotic experience.
NIco, 1988 directed and written by Susanna Nicchiarelli, covers the last two years in the life of the legendary singer Nico, who was the vocalist for The Velvet Underground and an Andy Warhol superstar. Trine Dyrholm gives a blistering performance as the iconic singer-songwriter facing a comeback though a haze of heroin and discontent.
A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot directed and written by Sinèad O'Shea is an eye-opening doco set in Londonderry after the signing of the 1988 Good Friday Agreement. It follows the travails of a Republican family post 'The 'Troubles' when peace was declared, but nothing else was resolved - thoroughly depressing, but true.
Beautiful Things directed and written by Giorgio Ferrero is a visual and aural vision of consumerism and waste. It is structured in four parts - Oil, Cargo, Measure and Ash and each focuses on a worker in isolation - meditative, with a powerful soundtrack that gets under your skin.
Three Identical Strangers directed by Tim Wardle is an alarming look at an adoption process that took place in New York City in the 1960s. It is compelling and bewildering at the same time and questions not only the system that was in place, but also the ramifications of separating triplets at birth. You couldn't make this story up!
An Elephant Sitting Still directed and written by Hu Bo is close to four hours long and is like binge-watching a superior Chinese soap-opera. The theft of a mobile phone sets in motion a chain of events that delves into the lives of four protagonists and leads to tragedy in a provincial Chinese town.
One Day directed and written by Zsófia Szilágyi is a Hungarian kitchen sink drama, but there’s a lot more wrong in this household than just a leaky tap. The film follows a fraught wife and mother of three small children over 24 hours in her busy life. Set in Budapest, but could be anywhere in the world. This intense and harrowing feature benefits from great camera-work, which adds to the sense of claustrophobia.
DAUGHTER OF MINE is directed and co-written by Laura Bispari and is a story of a young girl torn between her birth mother and her adopted mother. Filmed in a working-class fishing community on the coast of Sardinia, this is a heart-wrenching tale set in a harsh environment.
THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGWOOD is directed by Sonia Kronlund and follows the prolific Afghan filmmaker, Salim Shaheen, on location in a country with limited production resources. His enthusiasm and passion for cinema is inspiring.
MANTO is directed and written by Nandita Das. It is a moving story about the last four years of the Indian short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, a Moslem and resident of Bombay. His life was profoundly affected by Partition in 1947 and he subsequently moved to Lahore. A sad story with current day implications.
The winners of the various awards in contention at the Festival were announced on Sunday 17 June at the closing night ceremony. They are:
- The $60,000 Sydney Film Prize was awarded to director Marcelo Martinessi for The Heiresses, a film from Paraguay that tells the story of two heiresses whose 30-year relationship is tested when they fall on hard times;
- The $10,000 Sydney-UNESCO City of Film Award, presented to a NSW-based filmmaker, went to Warwick Thornton and was presented to him by his mate, the Archibald Prize-winning painter Ben Quilty;
- The Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary, also valued at $10,000, was won by Ben Lawrence for Ghosthunter, his film about a man who uncovers a horrific family secret while searching for his missing father;
- The $7,000 prize for the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films winner for the best Live Action Short was Alyssa McClelland for Second Best;
- The $7,000 Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director of a short film, was won by Tom Noakes for Nursery Rhymes;
- The $5,000 Yoram Gross Animation Award winner for best short animated film was Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe for their film Lost and Found; and
- The Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award, a $5000 prize for the best short screenwriting, was awarded to Tyson Mowarin for Undiscovered Country.
And last but by no means least, are the results of the popular vote, the audience award winners. They are:
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST FEATURE
1st The Insult
4th An Elephant Sitting Still
Equal 5th Ága & Leave No Trace
In the Audience Award for Best Documentary category...
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY
1st Backtrack Boys
2nd Teach a Man to Fish
3rd I Used to Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
5th Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible