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Wednesday
May102017

PREVIEW: 64th SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL

A picturesque seaside backdrop is just one of the key assets that the 2017 Sydney Film Festival will share with the 70th edition of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Ten films will jet in directly from their French screenings to bolster the 64th Harbour City cinematic celebration, which launches June 7 with 2009 Camera d’Or winner Warwick Thornton’s documentary, We Don’t Need a Map.

Four films having their Australian premieres at Sydney are in contention for the coveted Palme d’Or. They are Sofia Coppola’s highly anticipated southern gothic thriller, The Beguiled; Fatih Akin’s revenge-themed terrorist drama, In The Fade, starring Diane Kruger; the latest from Austrian master Michael Haneke, Happy End, with international superstar Isabelle Huppert; and, from South Korean genre maestro Bong Joon-ho, the drama Okja (pictured, above), boasting international stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and An Seo-hyun. The director will be in attendance to introduce the film, which has been selected to close the festival on June 18.

Four more films heading to Oz from The Croisette are directorial debuts. Wind River is a rural thriller starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen and directed by Taylor Sheridan, the acclaimed screenwriter of 2016 Oscar nominee Hell or High Water; the New Jersey set black comedy Patti Cake$, starring Australian Danielle McDonald, from first-time helmer Geremy Jasper; SNL star Kyle Mooney plays the bear-suited outsider in Dave McCary’s offbeat character comedy, Brigsby Bear; and 80 year-old acting great Vanessa Redgrave will attend in support of her directing debut, the refugee crisis doco Sea Sorrow.

The other Cannes titles are Napalm, a personal glimpse inside North Korean society from legendary documentarian, 91 year-old Claude Lanzmann (Shoah, 1985; The Last of The Unjust, 2013); and an immaculate new print of Belle de Jour, Luis Bunuel’s 1967 masterpiece starring Catherine Deneuve which is headlining the Cannes Classic restoration program.

Twelve films will vie for the Official Competition top spot, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2017. In addition to The Beguiled, We Don’t Need a Map and Happy End, the competition line-up includes the Alain Gomis’ Felicitie, Silver Bear Grand Jury winner at the Berlinale; Raoul Peck’s searing documentary I Am Not Your Negro, narrated by Samuel Jackson (read the Screen-Space review here); the Georgian-set empowerment tale Happy Family, from filmmakers Nana & Simon; Berlinale Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul, from Hungarian auteur Ildiko Enyedi; Aki Kaurismaki’s latest, the warm and insightful friendship story The Other Side of Hope; Kirsten Tan’s one-man-and-his-elephant heartwarmer Pop Aye, a Sundance screenwriting honouree; Australian theatre heavyweight Benedict Andrews controversial battle-of-the sexes thriller Una, with Ben Mendelsohn and Rooney Mara; the fearlessly challenging erotic sci-fi drama The Untamed, from Mexican director Amat Escalante; the debut feature by Afghani filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat, Wolf and Sheep, a work that earned her the 2016 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight prize.

Sydney programmers have snared 18 World Premiere feature film screenings for the 2017 line-up. These include two works from director Kriv Stenders – Australia Day, his incendiary drama that probes the racial tensions and multicultural stereotypes that have come to define our society; and, the rock band documentary The Go-Betweens: Right Here. Other global firsts include actor David Wenham’s directorial debut, Ellipsis; Rhiannon Bannenberg’s teenage beachside drama, Rip Tide; sci-fi thriller Otherlife from Ben C Lucas; renowned documentary filmmaker Tom Zubrycki’s latest, the Sudanese refugee story Hope Road; and Amanda Sthers’ French production Madame, starring Toni Collette and Harvey Keitel.

Across a vast programme that boasts 288 films (long- and short-form) from 59 countries, visions that arrive with considerable critical and commercial cache include David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, Cedric Klapisch’s Back to Burgundy, Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait, Christian Mungiu’s Graduation, Eduardo Roy Jnr’s Ordinary People, Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait (pictured, right), Doug Liman’s The Wall and Lav Diaz’s The Woman Who Left. The feature documentary selection includes such lauded works as Pascal Lamche’s Winnie, Amanda Lipitz’s Step, Maite Alberdi’s The Grown-Ups, David Borenstein’s Dream Empire and Alexandre O Philippe’s 78/52 (read the Screen-Space review here).

The 2017 sidebar strands are particularly rich, with programming that reflects the festival’s ongoing commitment to diversity, both social and artistic:

  • Europe! Voices of Women in Film: A collaboration with trade paper Screen International and the European Film Promotion initiative, ten new films from the continent’s female director will play SFF 2017. They include works from Ireland (Neasa Ni Chianain’s School Life), Switzerland (Petra Volpe’s The Divine Order), Portugal (Claudia Varejao’s Ama-San) and Macedonia (Teona Strugar Mitevska’s When The Day Had No Name);
  • Feminism & Film: Sydney Women Filmmakers 1970s and ‘80s: Nine films (five features, four shorts) will recall the strong female voice of Australian feminist cinema from decades past. The works include We Aim to Please (1976), Behind Closed Doors (1980) and This Woman is Not a Car (1982);
  • Sounds on Screen: Sold-out sessions are assured in this hugely populat music-themed strand, which this year boasts Nick Broomfield’s revelatory Whitney Houston doco, I Can Be Me (pictured, right) and Michael Winterbottom’s On The Road, which provides unprecedented access to Wolf Alice’s tour of the U.K.
  • Smash It Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Punk Rock 1977-2017: Six features acknowledging the anti-establishment voice include John Waters’ Desperate Living, Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of western Civilization and the Julien Temple/Sex Pistols classics, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and The Filth and The Fury;
  • Restorations: In addition to Belle de Jour, the Restorations line-up celebrates the career of late Iranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami, with a restored print of his 1997 film A Taste of Cherry and a screening of the 2016 documentary, 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami. Also, three reinvigorated Australian classics will screen – Pat Fiske’s Rocking the Foundations (1985), John Duigans’ The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Samantha Lang’s The Well (1997);
  • Focus on Canada: In conjunction with the Canadian Government and as part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, seven Canadian films will screen, including those of visiting directors Ann Marie Fleming (Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming); Simon Lavoie (Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves), Kirsten Carthew (The Sun at Midnight; pictured, right) and producer Christina Fon (Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World);
  • First Nations: A celebration of indigenous film culture, both local and international, the 13-strong line-up boasts works from New Zealand (Florian Habicht’s Brown Lips); Canada (Alethea Arnaquq-Barils’ Angry Inuk; Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit); and, ten films from Australia, including a special event screening of two Season 2 episodes of Wayne Blair’s small-screen hit, Cleverman;
  • Freak Me Out: The always popular genre selection, curated by Richard Kuipers, that this year includes Chris Peckovers’ Better Watch Out (read the Screen-Space review here, under it’s original title Safe Neighbourhood); Joe Lynch’s Mayhem, with Australian actress Samara Weaving; and Portuguese shocker The Forest of Lost Souls, from Jose Pedro Lopes;
  • Essential Kurosawa: Legendary critic and past SFF Director David Stratton presents ten timeless works from the Japanese master, including Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Red Beard, Kagemusha and Ran;
  • Family Films: All ages entertainment features the Oscar nominated My Life as a Zucchini from director Claude Barras and Dash Shaw’s animated feature My Entire High School Sinking into The Sea, voiced by Jason Schwartzman.

A new platform in 2017 is the Screenability initiative. Launched in conjunction with Screen NSW and the Department of Family and Community Services, it provides an outlet for international filmmakers with disabilities to have their work seen by the broad festival audience. Programmed by Sofya Gollan, the strand includes New Zealander Alyx Duncan’s Drumming is Like Thunder, Irish auteur Simon Fitzmaurice’s My Name is Emily, Swiss filmmaker Manuel von Sturler’s Lust for Sight and local talents Stevie Cruz-Martin (Pulse) and Johanna Garvin (Milky Pop Kid).

The 64th Sydney Film Festival will be held June 7-18 at nine venues across Sydney. For full ticketing and session details, visit the official website.

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