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Entries in Sydney Film Festival (6)

Saturday
Jun022018

THE FIVE-POINT SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL SURVIVAL GUIDE

In his engaging, remarkably frank memoir Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies, Variety chief film critic Owen Gleiberman reveals the five trade secrets that have helped him cope with what he calls “festival fever”. After 24 years as the founding movie critic at Entertainment Weekly and in his current gig as one of the last paid film commentators on Earth, he knows the pitfalls of film festival overload, declaring in Chapter 17 that “After six or seven days, I’m sated, bloated, reduced to the movie equivalent of a food coma.”

On the eve of the 2018 Sydney Film Festival, SCREEN-SPACE looks to the author’s experience and festival survival criteria to help navigate the twelve daunting days of the 65th anniversary program. We hope that drawing upon incisive passages of Gleiberman's brilliant prose (Ed: a dog-eared copy of Movie Freak never leaves my desk) will ensure our Emerald City readers maintain good movie-going mental health in the weeks ahead... 

1. SEE ONLY THREE MOVIES A DAY.
Gleiberman has deduced that, “three movies a day…creates a nice sustainable flow.” Four movies is doable but not advised (“…it’s not bricklaying, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to feel good.”) He recounts the first time he tried to conquer a four-movie sit-in - a retrospective marathon of Beatles films, when he was 12. “Halfway through Let It Be, I felt my interest dissolving faster than the Beatles’ love for one another,” he writes. Sydneysiders might be tempted to multi-movie quadrella one of the weekend days; for example, Saturday, June 9 has 46 films scheduled across 14 locations, starting with a 10am session of the 234-minute Chinese drama An Elephant Sitting Still (pictured, right). Best not to, though; as Gleiberman concludes, by the seventh or eighth hour of film immersion, “your system is literally fed up with images.”

2. SEEK OUT ANY DOCUMENTARY ABOUT ROCK & ROLL OR PORN.
The shared rhythmic urgency of great (and/or loud) music and great (and/or loud) sex makes for rousing movie watching. Or, as Gleiberman pens it, “it’s a way of revitalizing the primacy of your responses.” Throughout his book, he cites moments in his musical education that have impacted his worldview (jump ahead to page 257 for his account of how Nina Simone changed his life). And the title ‘Movie Freak’ carries its own double meaning, given the open-door authorial policy re his psycho-sexual complexities. So it is no surprise that the cinema of ‘sex’ and ‘rock’n’roll’ should so energise Gleiberman. SFF programmers get the music part; one of the festival’s most popular strands has always been Sounds on Screen, which in 2018 includes Bad Reputation, a bio-doc on hard-rock goddess Joan Jett, and director Travis Beard’s Muslim-metal odyssey RockAbul. Porn, not so much, although there’s promise in Sari Braithwaite’s [Censored], a montage-doc made entirely of frames excised by Australian censors, and the late inclusion of Gaspar Noe's (non-doc) Cannes sensation, Climax.   

3. TAKE THE MEALS AS SERIOUSLY AS YOU DO THE MOVIES.
Oh, we are so on board with this! Writes Gleiberman, “Watching movies is all about pleasure, and so is evaluating them, so I say that you need to remain in a constant dialogue with your pleasure centers.” His global standing as a critic means he has gorged on the best festival food options the world over, from Sundance (“…Burgie’s, the low-down grease-pit burger diner on Main Street [it closed in 2005]…the Vietnamese place up the block… Davanza’s, where the ground-beef-and-mushroom pizza is an orgy of crusty tasty delight”) to Cannes (“…where you can have the greatest pizza you ever tasted…Even the name of the place is perfect: It’s called…La Pizza”). Rookie festivalists in Sydney may find themselves drawn to the fast food haunts of George Street (don’t…just, don’t). Instead, stick to the ‘three films a day’ rule and use the down time to partake of the event’s restaurant partners, which include Abode, Bloodwood, Bar Machiavelli, Azuma (pictured, right), Chef’s Gallery or The Ritz Bar. Most have specials for fest patrons; all will hurry you through if a session beckons. 

4. ALWAYS HANG OUT WITH...
In Movie Freak, Gleiberman's favoured festival bud is Elvis Mitchell (pictured, right), one of America's finest film critics (Movieline; The New York Times), scholars (lectures at University of Nevada), broadcasters (hosts KCRW’s The Treatment podcast) and curators (oversaw LACMA’s Film Independent series). “An exciting bebop maestro of a critic,” says Gleiberman. But Mitchell won't be at SFF 2018, so who can you hang with to ensure that, in Gleiber-speak, “you will always wind up at a better party or be privy to more gossip - and film insight – than you would with anyone else”? Debonair festival director Nashen Moodley, ideally, but penetrating his high society realm and unforgiving schedule is tough, so ingratiate yourself with this lot – Mathieu Ravier, tireless social gadfly and film sector advocate who in past years has overseen the after-hours hangout, 'The Hub'; Garry Maddox, veteran critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and one of the festival’s favoured Q&A hosts; and, Lisa Malouf, contributor to The Limerick Review site, ebullient lover of classic film culture and the savviest person with whom to spend ten minutes if you need a 'Best of the Fest' update.

    

5. THE WHOLE SYSTEM WANTS YOU TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID, OF A SUNDANCE CROWD-PLEASER. DON’T BE. 
One of the key messages in Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies is ‘Back Your Own Voice With Conviction.’ Gleiberman has found himself at odds with editors and audiences alike, his observations often running counter to popular opinion. To wit, his inherent dislike of ‘the Sundance crowdpleaser’, or in his words, “watchable polished-turd entertainments posing as organic movies”. Here’s what he wrote about that flag-bearer for Sundance sweetness, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine: “…each of its characters – loser dad! surly teen son who refuses to speak! schticky naughty grandpa played by Alan Arkin! – a walking, talking screenwriter’s index card.” We’re not so on board with his ...Sunshine bashing, but we essentially agree with him; in our 2016 SFF wrap, we gave ‘Worst of the Fest’ to an awful, already-forgotten Sundance spawn, Coconut Hero. SFF 2018 programmers weren’t swayed from their sunny Sundance predilection. The festival closes with a Sundance premiere, Brett Haley’s Hearts Beat Loud (we’ll hold judgement, but…wow, that title); there are Sundance-endorsed pics such as Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Grand Jury Prize winner; pictured, right), Jesse Peretz’s Juliet, Naked, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel (uh-oh) about a romance in the indie-rock scene (UH-OH!) and Sara Colangelo’s The Kindergarten Teacher (US Dramatic Directing Award). They are probably fine films, but if not, we’ll speak up, as should you. Don’t be afraid, writes Owen Gleiberman, of “branding yourself as the kind of curmudgeonly pariah who doesn’t know how to run with the crowd. Because you’re right and they’re wrong.”

THE 65th SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL runs June 6-17. Ticket and session details are available at the official website.

MOVIE FREAK: MY LIFE WATCHING MOVIES is currently available via Amazon (Australia/US) in print and audiobook and wherever all good books are sold.

Monday
May072018

10 MUST-SEE MOVIES FROM THE 2018 SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL PROGRAM

The 65th Sydney Film Festival has announced its 2018 line-up – a whopping 320ish films, from 60 countries in 160 different languages. The programming team want audiences going in and coming out of the 12 day event with smiles on their faces. Opening night honours go to the New Zealand laffer The Breaker Upperers; closing the event will be Brett Haley’s daddy-daughter feel-good dramedy, Hearts Beat Loud. In between, however, there are emotions of all kind to experience. Here are 10 films that immediately earned ‘must watch’ status at this year’s SFF… 

BEIRUT (Dir: Brad Anderson; U.S.A., 109 mins)
Two of Hollywood’s smartest talents combine to provide Mad Men hunk Jon Hamm (pictured, above) with the meaty role he’s been biding his time for – Mason Skiles, a CIA negotiator sent into the Middle East to secure the release of a colleague. After a couple of hired-hand movies (Stonehearst Asylum, 2014; The Call, 2013), Anderson looks to have returned to the hard-edged drama of his 2004 break-out film, The Machinist; script is by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, 2007; State of Play, 2009; Rogue One A Star Wars Story; 2016).

WEST OF SUNSHINE (Dir: Jason Raftopoulos; Australia, 78 mins)
Inner city Melbourne is the backdrop for this father-stepson drama, the directorial debut of Jason Raftopoulos. Cast is lead by Damian Hill (Pawno, 2015; Spin Out, 2016), whose life is crumbling under family issues and gambling addiction. The actor’s real-life stepson, non-actor Ty Perham, is remarkable in his film debut. Music by Lisa Gerrard (Gladiator; Whale Rider); world premiered at Venice 2017.  

A VIGILANTE (Dir: Sarah Daggar-Nelson; U.S.A., 91 mins)
Australian-born Daggar-Nelson makes her directing debut with this harrowing drama about a domestic-abuse survivor who turns vigilante to help others escape their attackers. Olivia Wilde is past due on the role that will put her on Oscar’s A-list (The Hollywood Reporter calls her performance, “nakedly emotional”); Daggar-Nelson’s willingness to muddy the morality of self-administered payback, makes this potentially one of the toughest yet most rewarding films of the festival.

 

MAYA THE BEE: THE HONEY GAME (Dirs: Noel Cleary, Sergio Delfino and Alexs Stadermann; Australia | Germany, 85 mins)
The first adventure of Maya the Bee was a solid global performer in 2014 before a huge ancillary life. Three of the animation sectors most respected artist/storytellers, with credits like Blinky Bill, The Lego Movie and Legend of The Guardians to their names, combine talents for this high-concept sequel, a riff on the hugely popular Jennifer Lawrence franchise. Voices include Richard Roxburgh, Justine Clarke and, returning as the lead insect, Coco Jack Gillies.

BlacKkKlansman (Dir: Spike Lee; U.S.A., 128 mins)
Ron Stallworth, an African American detective, went deep undercover into the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. His memoirs seem like perfect material for Spike Lee, who has continued making angry, race-based diatribe cinema (even if the audience hasn’t always turned out for his films). Direct to Sydney from Cannes, where it competed for the Palme d’Or; early Oscar buzz for Topher Grace, whose turn as Klan frontman David Duke is set to shock. Other key players are Adam Driver and John David Washington, son of Denzel. 

HOLIDAY (Dir: Isabella Elköf; Denmark | The Netherlands | Sweden, TBC mins)
Do not let the sunny imagery mislead you. Isabella Elköf’s debut feature is a bleak and brutal love triangle / crime thriller; Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne) accompanies her crime boss boyfriend on a trip to the Turkish Riviera, only to have things go bad very quickly. Reportedly contains a rape scene like no other; Variety stated, “a steady female gaze behind the camera tilts the film’s politics in unexpected, deliberately discomfiting ways.”

 

THE PURE NECESSITY (Dir: David Claerbout; Belgium, 50 mins)
Deconstructing cinema is part of what film festivals have to do to service the ‘serious cinephile’ audience; in 2013, SFF presented the brilliant cinematic montage essay, Final Cut – Ladies and Gentlemen. In 2018, Disney’s 1967 classic The Jungle Book comes under the knife; director David Claerbout has removed all remnants of a narrative, anthropomorphism, human interaction and music, leaving an idyllic paradise for Walt’s animals to live a life of freedom.

DISOBEDIENCE (Dir: Sebastián Lelio; United Kingdom, 114 mins)
All eyes will be on the Chilean director’s first film since his Foreign Film Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman. Having turned her back on her Jewish faith and orthodox family, Rachel Weisz must return to the place of her upbringing; a gay affair with her childhood friend (Rachel McAdams) stirs prejudice even further. Variety called the directeor’s English-language debut, “yet another triumph in what’s shaping up to be a major career.” 

THE LONG SEASON (Dir: Leonard Retel Helmrich; The Netherlands, 118 mins)
Director Helmrich had a heart attack mid-production, the difficult shoot being completed by artist Ramia Suleiman and producer Pieter van Huystee. And difficult it was; the small crew was embedded in the Majdal Anjar refugee camp, an enormous community of Syrian refugees who have fled their ISIS-ruled homeland. Shot sans narration, the cinema verite stylings of the Dutch crew has been called, “compassionate, camly observed, lyrical” by Screen Daily.

ONE DAY (Dir: Zsófia Szilágyi; Hungary, 99 mins)
The debut film for director Zsófia Szilágyi, who was Ildikó Enyedi’s first assistant on last year’s SFF Official Competition winner, On Body and Soul. Direct from a coveted slot in the Cannes‘ Critics Circle line-up, the tightly-wound domestic drama takes place over the course of a single day and stars Zsófia Szamosi as Anna,a mother of three dealing with a failing marriage in addition to her daily family grind.

Wednesday
Jun072017

WHAT WOULD NASHEN WATCH? DIRECTOR PICKS HIS BEST OF THE FEST

Having overseen the selection of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival line-up from 100s of hopefuls, the question is there to be asked…what would Nashen watch, again? With his bums-to-seats ratio growing annually and a new raft of films and venues in the mix, there’s an argument to be made that Nashen Moodley is the most successful festival director in Sydney Film Festival history. 

On May 17, a gathering of industry insiders joined journos and sponsors at the Abode Bar in Sydney’s Park Royal Hotel to get the scoop on the best of the fest from the man himself… 

WE DON’T NEED A MAP: Dir Warwick Thornton
Nashen says: “A couple of years ago, Warwick made a very controversial statement that the Southern Cross as a symbol had become the new swastika. He got into a lot of trouble for that but, instead of shying away from it, Warwick decided to make a film about it. It’s a clever documentary that, like the man himself, is funny and provocative.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; the Opening Night film is having its world premiere at Sydney.

FELICITE: Dir. Alain Gomis
Nashen says: “So little is known about African cinema outside of Africa, which is a very sad fact. Set in the Congolese city of Kanchasa, this film is filled with music and magic as well as tragedy. It’s a remarkable film because it subverts the ideals of African cinema in many ways, presenting hardship but within a love story, a resilience against hardship.”
Critics say: “A formally complex work, too long perhaps and occasionally opaque in its meaning, but a daring ride to those wanting to glimpse the best of African cinema.” – The Film Stage

LITTLE HOURS: Dir: Jeff Baena
Nashen says: “This one will cause a little trouble, I think, but it’s very funny. It’s set in a nunnery, where some nuns are not as committed to their as they should be when a hunky deaf mute Dave Franco enters their world. The trailer has made some people angry, but it’s all loosely based on The Decameron, so they’ve had 700 years to be angry about it.”
Critics say: “as it delivers plenty of laughs for its duration it’s difficult to fault The Little Hours for *only* being a funny film.” – Film School Rejects

BLUE: Dir. Karina Holden
Nashen says: “This film paints a horrifying picture about what is going on in our oceans at the moment. Fortunately, we are introduced the film to a number of heroes who are challenging what has been accepted for too long and are changing how are oceans are being treated.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; film is having its World Premiere at Sydney.

THE BEGUILED: Dir. Sofia Coppola.
Nashen says: “There’s sexual tension, heresy, the type of ‘southern hospitality’ that you’ve not seen before. Nicole Kidman is remarkable in this role, that sees her balance between extreme good and quite extreme evil.”
Critics say: “Although the picture is noticeably lacking in taut suspense of the conventional variety, it flies in close to a subtler, hotter flame: The sensuality of deceit.” – TIME

PATTI CAKE$. Dir:
Nashen says: "I’ve been to many Sundance festivals and I can’t recall any films that got a reaction like Patti Cake$. It is very inspirational, with a wonderful performance in the lead by Australian actress Danielle McDonald. It was the focus of a big bidding war and will be one of the best session at our festival.”
Critics say: “Every few years, an indie character comes along who so perfectly captures what it’s like to be mocked and marginalized, even as she refuses to let the bullies and abusers have the last word. That’s the kind of character Patti Cake$ is, and that’s why she stands to become one of the year’s most endearing discoveries” – Variety

THE UNTAMED: Dir. Amat Escalante.
Nashen says: “Escalante has made quite a few very controversial, very extreme films, most notably Heli. He changes tack once again with The Untamed, which is about…um, how to say this…I guess…a sex monster from another planet, capable of providing humans with the greatest pleasure they’ve ever experienced. It is science-fiction, erotica and social realism. It is not one for everyone, I admit.”
Critics say: “Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft had written The Joy of Sex, or better still a porn parody of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker.” – CineVue

RUMBLE: THE INDIANS WHO ROCKED THE WORLD: Dir.Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana.
Nashen says: “It is about how native Americans and their music has impacted all kinds of music across many decades. It is a fantastic, surprisning film with so much great music.”
Critics say: “Along with showcasing the evolution of rock music, blues, jazz, folk, pop and even hip hop, Rumble also provides great insight into the hardships that Native Americans endured over the years.” – In The Seats.

ALI’S WEDDING: Dir.
Nashen says: “Australia’s first Muslim rom-com. It stars Osamah Sami, the very person upon whom the incredible true story is based. He told his story to a film producer friend, who said ‘We have to make this into a film’.”
Critics say: Nothing, yet; the film is having one of its first showings at Sydney.

OKJA: Dir. Bong Joon-ho
Nashen says: “I have admired this director for a long time; he’s one of the best filmmakers working today. In his homeland of Korea, his films are considered mainstream, where his genre films are blockbusters, earning upwards of 12 million admissions. We’ve shown almost all his films at Sydney; the last one was Snowpiercer.”
Critics say: A gleeful satire about the rapacious US food industry... wrapped neatly around a moving, almost Disney-esque story of a girl and her pet.” – The Daily Mail (UK)

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.

Saturday
Jun182016

11 UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS (10 GREAT; 1 TERRIBLE) FROM THE SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL

SCREEN-SPACE got the jump on some of the Sydney Film Festival’s big drawcards at Cannes, so no Julietta, Aquarius or Personal Shopper amongst this lot, however deserving. The vastness of the 2016 programme nonetheless ensures there were many special cinematic moments worth celebrating. Oh, and one that had us cringing. With the Festival winding down to Sunday's Closing Night screening of Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship, we line up (in no order) the frames of film that lingered longest in the memory (SPOILER WARNING)…

‘The Not-So-Nice Guys’ in WAR ON EVERYONE
Writer-director John Michael McDonagh aced it with The Guard and Calvary, thoroughly earning this shot at the all-American ‘buddy cop’ genre pic. He winningly transplants his brand of rhythmic Brit banter and whip-smart in-jokes to the dusty New Mexican setting; Michael Pena and an unhinged Alexander Skarsgård (pictured, above) are the riotous, R-rated double act that we all hoped Crowe and Gosling were going to be in that other buddy pic. So many memorable moments; we’ll go with the African-American snitch that decides that Iceland, the whitest country on Earth, is a good place to hide.

‘Janis’ School Reunion’ in JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUES
Janis Joplin had fled her smalltown life, the victim of callous bullying by her school peers. When she guests on the Dick Cavett show, she flippantly tells an enormous television audience she is heading home for her high school reunion. A media frenzy, 70’s style, ensues, capturing both her defiance and discomfort with vivid acuity. Amy Berg’s best film ever is full of extraordinary moments culled from the songstress’ life, none more insightful than her return to the high school hellhole that drove her away.

‘Weiner Does it Again’ in WEINER
Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s fly-on-the-wall account of the New York politician’s professional self-immolation moves at cracking pace from the first frame, capturing the momentum of a career public servant fast-tracking himself to the upper echelons of New York society. Then, with one dick-pic scandal behind him, another breaks and the house-of-cards resurrection he and his team had accomplished comes crashing down. It is train-wreck documentary gold, and plays out as such in this teeth-gnawingly entertaining film.

 

That Song’ in TONI ERDMANN
Maren Ade’s 162-minute black comedy masterpiece (that we missed in Cannes, despite it being the festival’s best reviewed film) skates by on an emotional razor’s edge of anxiety and embarrassment. How to release crucial audience pressure as the narrative veers towards excruciating humiliation? Have your incognito anti-hero, ‘Toni Erdmann’ (the wonderful Peter Simonischek) accompany his put-upon daughter (a near-perfect Sandra Huller) in an impromptu rendition of a classic 80’s power ballad. The sequence is as hilarious and empowering as any on-screen moment this year.

That Line’ in GREETINGS FROM FUKUSHIMA
The great German auteur Doris Dorrie took her two leads – stunning countrywoman Rosalie Thomass and enigmatic Japanese actress Kaori Momoi – deep into the devastated Fukushima landscape for this moving story of grief, friendship and forgiveness. The impact of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown is beyond horrific, as was captured in the line, “The ghosts still can’t believe they’re dead.” The words, spoken nonchalantly by Momoi’s grieving Satomi when she learns of the spirits that materialise while she sleeps, echoed silently in the cavernous State Theatre; they convey both the terrifying suddenness and immense scale of one of the worst tragedies in human history.

‘Mermaid Vagina’ in THE LURE
Frankly, there are about 50 remarkable moments we could have selected from Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska’s insane vampire-mermaid-musical, a sort of Rocky Horror Show-meets-Showgirls-meets-Splash concoction that is unlike anything Australian audiences have seen….well, ever. When sultry siren Silver (Marta Mazurek) wants to seduce bass player Mietek (Jakub Giierszal), she reveals to him exactly where on her huge tail he needs to concentrate. Yeah, that’s right…

‘Ragin’ Mel’ in BLOOD FATHER
Young moviegoers view Mel Gibson as an old Hollywood ‘boogeyman’, his real life anger issues far more defining than the two decades he spent as one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. Those of us who prefer to recall his edge-of-insanity onscreen moments in Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Hamlet, Ransom, Braveheart and Payback were thrilled to see ‘Meltdown Mel’ back in full-force in Jean-François Richet’s dad-and-daughter road movie. As he unloads a verbal tirade on a double-crossing Michael Parks, Gibson taps into the true nature of madness and desperation; stare into the actor’s eyes at these moments, I dare you.

‘The Old Man at the Bedroom Door’ in UNDER THE SHADOW
Iran’s first foray in the horror genre is a claustrophobic haunted-apartment yarn that works ancient Djinn demonology into the modern life of a young Tehran family. With her medico husband is called into active duty, young mum Shideh (Narges Rashidi) must care for her increasingly anxious daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), who has formed an unhealthy, perhaps unholy alliance with a presence in their apartment. The extent of their troubles is revealed in one particularly bone-chilling moment, when the deceased old man from upstairs appears in their bedroom doorway at night. In a display of precise unity, the audience at the sold-out ‘Freak Me Out’ session lifted off their seats as one.

‘The Old Man at the Film Archives’ in A FLICKERING TRUTH
New Zealand documentarian Pietra Brettkelly embedded herself in Kabul to capture the film archival efforts of Ibrahim Arify and his team, who endeavour to save the remaining spools of Afghanistan film history. In addition to a powerful story of determination in the face of a regime’s destructive cultural redefinition, Brettkelly discovered Isaaq Yousif, the self-appointed keeper of the Archives who had lived in the building for 30 years. Ageing and frail, Yousif lead a shut-in’s life through the worst years of the Taliban’s rule, determined to preserve what he could of the region’s cinematic heritage. The old man’s narrative may be the greatest heroic arc of any at this year’s festival.

‘A Little Girl’s Tears’ in UNDER THE SUN
Russian director Vitaly Mansky gained unprecedented access into the life of a seemingly normal Pyongyang family. What is revealed is how meticulously staged all the ‘normal’ moments really were. At the centre of the film is 8 year-old Zin-mi, whose transformation from spirited, smiling sweetie into a confused, indoctrinated cog in the DPRK ideology is heart-breaking. Mansky’s devastating final frames capture a little girl consumed by the pressures of adhering to Kim Jong-un’s dictatorial rule. Zin-mi weeps despite herself; when an off-screen voice demands she finds happy thoughts to quell her tears, she can find none. Instead, she summons politicised rhetoric, like the good citizen into which she has been moulded.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Two incredible shorts that left indelible impressions – Axel Danielsen and Maximilien van Aertryck’s high-dive tummy-tightener, Ten Meter Tower; and, the nightmarish Id-on-the-rampage vision, Manoman, from Simon Cartwright.

And the worst moment of 63rd Sydney Film Festival…

‘Dead Deer Ukulele Eulogy’ from COCONUT HERO
The Sydney Film Festival programmers love the ‘Sundance Film,’ the feel-good, sentimental yarn wrapped in an indie aesthetic made popular at the Redford’s Utah love-in. At best, they look like Little Miss Sunshine (SFF, 2006), but in recent years they have found a just-ok middle ground (The Way Way Back, SFF 2013; Liberal Arts, SFF 2012). In 2016, the ‘Sundance Film’ parodied itself with Florian Cossen’s insufferable millennial navel-gazer Coconut Hero, in which outsider dullard Mike (Alex Ozerov) mumbles through a worthless existential non-crisis. A road trip with man-saviour caricature Miranda (Bea Santos) turns bad when they hit a deer; things get worse (for the deer and the audience) when the pair take out a ukulele and giggle their way through an improvised musical farewell – over the dying animal. Hipster disconnect from real-world emotion in favour of indulging one’s own unique (read: self-centred) perspective has never been so clearly articulated, though one doubts that was the filmmaker’s intention.