Film festivals have had a rough run since COVID-19 engulfed the planet. Some of the world's biggest events cancelled entirely. 2020 saw the Sydney Film Festival move to a virtual event in an effort to curb Australia's spread of the virus. So it's with great excitement (and a little trepidation) that SFF 2021 is scheduled to go ahead in cinemas - and today, SWITCH is privileged to get a sneak peek at this year's line-up.
Festival Director, Nashen Moodley, is very excited to see the return of an audience to the Sydney Film Festival. "It's it feels like a very long time that we've been out of cinemas," Nashen admits. "But it's wonderful to be programming a large festival. The teaser announcement is just 22 out of a very large number of films, but I think they're wonderful films that just give people an indication of the direction in which we're moving this year. There are many more films to come."
Of course, there's a strong Australian presence among the early announcement. "'Wash My Soul in the Rivers Flow' is a beautiful film about Archie Roach and the late Ruby Hunter and this tremendous concert they gave, but it also looks into their lives and their relationship," reveals Nashen. "It's a film that's that's joyous and tragic. There's the documentary 'Step into Paradise', which is a wonderful celebration of the fashion revolutionaries, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson, and that's a marvellous film as well. We also have Australian stars like Essie Davis, who's in the New Zealand film 'The Justice of Bunny King', starring alongside the actress Thomasin McKenzie. And that's one about a mother and her struggle to be reunited with her children who have been taken into care."
There's also a strong international vibe to the line-up. "We have some of the major prize winners from the major film festivals," Nashen reveals. "'Hive' is a film from Kosovo which won the Grand Jury Prize Best Director and Audience Award prizes at Sundance earlier this year. It's very rare for a film to win both prizes, since that means it's a film that's both critically adored and also adored by the public. I think it's a tremendous film based on a true story of a poor woman in Kosovo, in a very patriarchal village following the war, trying to stake her independence. We have the winner of the Golden Bear from last year in Berlin, 'There is No Evil' by the Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, who's been banned from making films in Iran but has managed a very clever way to make this film. He was able to make four short films under the radar and then bring them together into this very powerful film. There's the fantastic Russian film 'Dear Comrades' by the great Russian director Andrey Konchalovskiy, and that won the special prize Special Jury Prize at Venice last year.
There's a fascinating documentary called 'Writing With Fire', which won the Special Jury and Audience prizes at Sundance this year for international documentary," Nashen adds. "That's about a group of journalists working for India's first all-female news network, working with with cell phones and minimal resources. They go out and get really incredible stories and fight for justice. That's a very empowering and inspiring film."
I think it's a time in the world where people are contemplating power structures and and how the world operates.
That seems to be a common thread throughout many of the first films announced at this year's Sydney Film Festival. "There are a number of films about people fighting for justice in in some way, whether that's for individual justice or for something broader," explains Nashen, "and I expect that will continue through the rest of the program. I think it's a time in the world where people are contemplating power structures and and how the world operates. And through this pandemic, [we've had] a chance to reflect on how the world is operating, and whether we can change the world in some ways to change how it operates. I think filmmakers are really engaged with that subject matter.
The pandemic has impacted filmmakers in a variety of ways - but Nashen feels like the level of quality of submissions to this year's festival. "If you asked me a year ago, I would have thought there would be far, far fewer," he confesses. "But it does seem to me that people have managed to make films. We haven't seen a drop off at all in the number of films sent to us. People have continued to work, either completely engaging with the pandemic and making films about the pandemic, or somehow shooting within the constraints imposed by the pandemic. And it makes for a fascinating selection, to see how how the industry has has survived to this time. It's not been an easy time, of course, with cinemas closed in so many parts of the world for such a long time. But we're seeing now that there is a re-emergence of cinema, that when cinemas reopen, as they have in the United States and in France and in other places, people are really clamouring to return back to the cinema."
The full program for the Sydney Film Festival will be announced on the 21st July, and the 2021 edition of the festival will screen from the 18th to the 29th of August. For more details on the teaser films and to secure tickets, head to sff.org.au now.