The 61st Sydney Film Festival consists of 183 titles from 47 countries and includes 15 World Premieres (including 6 World Premiere short films), 122 Australian premieres (including 14 Australian premiere short films) and 6 International premieres (including 1 International Premiere short film).
“Sydney Film Festival has gone from strength to strength over recent years, with attendees increasing over 23% since 2011 to 143, 000”, said festival director Nashen Moodley. “SFF not only presents the best films from across the country and around the world, but we also open up dialogue between the creators and audiences and curators and critics alike, in every direction and combination. Together in a crowded theatre, comedies are funnier, horror films are scarier and tender moments bring tears more readily; everything we feel is amplified by the power of the shared experience.
This year SFF presents the Australian Premiere of 20, 000 Days on Earth featuring Nick Cave as the Opening Night Film on Wednesday 4 June and the Australian premiere of the New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows as the Closing Night Film on Sunday June 15. Directed by Taikia Waititi (who directed Boy, which won the Audience Award at SFF 2010) it stars Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords). Taikia Waititi will attend the festival and introduced the screening.
In 2014, SFF features the most Australian films ever to compete for the prestigious Sydney Film Prize: in addition to David Michod’s The Rover – Michod and stars Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson to attend the State Theatre screening on Saturday 7th June – the 12 film selection includes the World Premiere of Kasimir Burgess’ Fell, and Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody’s Ruin. The internationall recognized SFF Official Competition, now in its 7th year, awards a $60, 000 cash prize in recognition of courageous, audacious and cutting edge cinema. Previous prizewinners were Only God Forgives (2013), Alps (2012), A Separation (2011), Heartbeats (2010), Bronson (2009) and Hunger (2008).
20, 000 Days on Earth (Directors: Iain Forsythe and Jane Pollard, Screenwriters: Iani Forsythe, Jane Pollard and Nick Cave)
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Director, Screenwriter: Diao Yinan)
Boyhood (Director, Screenwriter: Richard Linklater)
Fell (Director: Kasimir Burgess, Screenwriter: Natasha Pincus)
Fish and Cat (Director, Screenwriter: Shahram Mokri)
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (Director, Screenwriter: Guillaume Nicloux)
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (Director: David Zellner, Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner)
Locke (Director, Screenwriter: Steven Knight)
The Rover (Director, Screenwriter: David Michod)
Ruin (Director, Screenwriter: Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Michael Cody)
Snowpiercer (Director: Bong Joon-ho, Screenwriters: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson)
Two Days, One Night (Directors, Screenwriters: Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
I’ll be purchasing tickets to all of these, marks my words.
Confirmed guests from the Official Competition include: Diao Yinan (writer/director, Black Coal, Thin Ice), Ellar Coltrae (actor, Boyhood), Cathleen Sutherland (producer, Boyhood), Kasimir Burgess (director, Fell), Shahram Mokri (director Fish and Cat), David Zellner (director, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter), David Michod (director, The Rover), Guy Pearce (actor, The Rover), Michael Cody and Amiel Courtin-Wilson (co-directors, Ruin).
Personal highlights (on first look – many others will no doubt appeal on deeper examination) from the Special Presentations at the State include: Begin Again, Calvary, The Captive, Cold in July, Frank, Gabrielle, Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?, The Two Faces of January, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Wish I was Here and Words and Pictures.
Personal highlights from the SFF Features include: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, The Fake, Happy Christmas, I’m Not Him, Ilo Ilo, Joe, Love is Strange, Miss Violence, Night Moves, Omar, Palo Alto, Praia Do Fututo, The Skeleton Twins, Starred Up, Tom at the Farm and We are the Best!
As television continues to attract some of cinema’s great directors and feature-film production values, SFF 2014 presents two world-class examples of small-screen on the big screen. Danny Boyle’s Babylon is a witty, fast-paced feature-length TV pilot for a new UK comedy-drama. Babylon focuses on American PR guru Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) on her first day at work as director of communications for the Metropolitan Police. Devil’s Playground is a new TV series from Rachel Ward (Beautiful Kate) and Tony Krawitz (Dead Europe) based on Fred Schepisi’s 1976 film about the conflict between desire and spirituality in a Catholic seminary.
Personal highlight from the SFF International Documentaries include: At Berkeley, Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater, E-Team, Jodorowsky’s Dune, Life Itself, Manakamana, National Gallery and The Unknown Known.
Eight films from maverick American filmmaker Robert Altman are to feature in a retrospective – That Cold Day in the Park (1969), M*A*S*H (1970), McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), Nashville (1975), 3 Women (1977), A Wedding (1978), Short Cuts (1993) and A Prairie Home Companion (2006).
There is also a retrospective on James Benning, a hugely important artist to a small but discerning group of curators, critics, academics and fellow artists from all over the world who continually support him and engage in dialogues about his work. His career started in the 1960’s and includes over 50 film, art and multimedia projects that have performance, photohtraphic, literary, architectural and fine-art components – Chicago Loop (1976), American Dreams (Lost and Found (1984), Deseret (1995), Fire and Rain (2009), Nightfall (2011).
When Studio Ghibli was started in 1985, co-founding directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, along with producer Toshio Suzuki, wanted to bring a breath of fresh air to Japanese animation. Miyazki was influenced by classic Japanese filmmakers Ozu and Mizoguchi; while Takahata looked to Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave. These two retrospective titles – My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki), and Grave of the Fireflies (Takahata), were both released in 1988. 27 years later, another pair of films by these maestros nearing the end of their careers were in simultaneous production. Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya is screening as part of this year’s festival.
Just as exciting as the films are the talks and panels at the Sydney Film Festival Hub:
– In a live recording of the Hell is For Hyphenates podcast, hosts Lee Zachariah and Paul Anthony Nelson run through the filmmography of the great Robert Altman with his son Michael. Thursday 5 June, 5.30-7pm.
– Pod Save Our Screen, the Graffiti With Punctuation Podcast featuring Blake Howard and Maria Lewis, will be recording live at the Festival Hub 6-7pm Friday 6 June.
– Australian Film Critics Association chair Richard Haridy presents an illustrated talk on representations of altered states and psychedelia in cinema, from Easy Rider to Enter the Void in Trippy Films. Friday June 6 8-9pm.
– There will also be a Film Critics Death Match on Sunday June 8 3:30-5pm. Can the indefensible film be defended? Can you write a review in 140 characters or less? Put a panel of film critics to the test in this interactive set of movie review challenges.
– Also, want to chat about the films you’ve seen at SFF? Come to the Film Club, an informal and inclusive space hosted by the critics of Graffiti With Punctuation every afternoon.
Where does one begin? With such an immense amount of films, such an incredible diversity, it is a challenge to narrow it down to a flexi-30. Congratulations to festival director Nashen Moodley and his programming team for this extraordinary line-up.
The full program – including the unmentioned China: Rebels, Ghosts and Romantics, Freak Me Out and Restorations sections – is online at the Sydney Film Festival website – http://www.sff.org.au/public/festival-hub/ – and tickets are on sale now!
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22