With cinemas (almost) back in full swing, it’s time for this year’s Sydney Film Festival. An annual delight for lovers of stories young and old, this year’s event is set to be an exciting return to the event we know and love.
It’s going to be strong festival from the get-go with opening night film ‘We Are Still Here’. “It's a wonderful film to begin the festival with because it showcases new talent,” SFF Director Nashen Moodley told SWITCH when he walked us through this year’s program. “It's a collaboration between Australian and New Zealand filmmakers, First Nations filmmakers all. I think the film is just wonderful. It's a film that covers so much terrain in terms of history. It's a film that covers the time span of more than a thousand years from ancient times to the future. And it's one that incorporates so many genres - there's romantic comedy, there's sci-fi, there's historical drama, animation. I think it's a film that's really going to impress the audience, and it's wonderful to profile these ten directors on the opening night of the festival.”
There are plenty more films showcasing Australian talent at this year’s festival. “’Blaze’ by Del Kathryn Barton is playing in the competition, and I'm very excited to present that to audiences. ‘You Won't Be Alone’ is Goran Stolevski's film, also playing in the competition. His film played at Sundance earlier this year, receiving rave reviews. It's a beautiful first film that is, in some ways a horror film, but also so much beyond that in that it really looks at this big idea of what does it mean to be human.”
“Also screening, a film that’s not Australian in that it was not made here but it's certainly made by an Australian director, Sophie Hyde’s ‘Good Luck to You, Leo Grande’. I think that's a film that's going to really wow audiences. ‘Seriously Red’ is a much-anticipated film that played at South by Southwest Festival earlier this year. It's by Gracie Otto. We've shown her documentaries before, but this is her first feature film, and it's about a Dolly Parton impersonator whose life changes radically. It's a very funny film and of course, filled with great tunes.”
Award-winners from overseas will also be prevalent in this year’s offerings. “We have films from from more than 60 countries,” Nashen reveals. “We're playing films like ‘Alcarràs’, which won the Golden Bear in Berlin, which I think is a tremendous film with a nonprofessional cast made in Spain. ‘All The people I'll Never Be’ is also in the competition. This is a film set in Korea by French-Cambodian director David Chu, and we've shown his films before. This film, which is coming to us straight from Cannes, is this very expensive, almost epic film about this fascinating character who's really entertaining and funny and headstrong, who's trying to resolve this identity crisis. She goes back to Korea from France, she was adopted from Korea as a child, but has never been there and goes on the search for her birth parents. And it's something quite special. Elsewhere in the program, a film like ‘Utama’ won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. It's set in the Bolivian highlands, and it's about a couple whose way of life is completely changing through the extensive drought, through climate change. It's about their decision and whether to stay or whether to leave and give up on that way of life forever.”
For lovers of non-fiction, there’s plenty of films on offer at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. “I think it's a very good year for documentaries,” says Nashen. “’Fire of Love’ is one of them. I think this is a film that people are going to talk about for a long time and remember forever. A film about a three-way love affair between a couple and volcanoes that's just spectacular to look at. It has unbelievable close-up footage of volcanoes, and I think that's one that's that people are really, really going to take to. Elsewhere in the program, we have ‘All That Breathes’ that won the big prize at Sundance for documentary, but it's also going to Cannes. This is a very beautifully made film about the two brothers who protect birds in in New Delhi in India. It's a fascinating film about absolute devotion to doing something good, and it's been made in a very poetic and beautiful way.”
A film like ‘Navalny’, which is a documentary about the Russian opposition leader, is a remarkable portrait of courage, especially what's going on in the world right now, what's going on in Ukraine. It's about resistance. It's about extreme courage. It's about being principled, and I think people are going to leave that film knowing a lot more about this character that we know a bit about, and we know that that he's gone through some really extraordinarily challenging times. But I think it's a film that will really galvanize people.”
Whether fiction or documentary, there are common threads which tie this year’s program together – and one that surprised Nashen as it materialised. “The themes emerge as the program comes together, because we go out looking for the best films we possibly can present. One of the big themes I think that's come out is that there are a lot of love stories in the festival this year. It's quite interesting that, in a world of the last few years of pandemic, of war, of rising authoritarianism around the world, there are a lot of love stories and there are a lot of films about the intimate connection between people. I think there's a lot of cinema that's very emotional this year. I think it's really good that filmmakers have responded in this way. I'm a little surprised by it, I must say, because it's not often that I can look at the festival program at the end and say, oh, there's a lot of love stories here. But they are they really are this year. There are films that are really going to make people laugh and make people cry. And I think that's going to be just wonderful to experience in the cinema with a lot of people together.”