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Wednesday
Jul152015

SOUTHLAND TALES: THE NIMA JAVIDI INTERVIEW

Two upwardly mobile Iranian students are hours away from departing their Tehran apartment for a new life in the titular Australian city when, asked to briefly care for a sleeping infant, their destinies take a harrowing turn. Debutant writer/director Nima Javidi’s complex, harrowing morality tale, one of the most anticipated films at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), plays out as both a tragic drama and riveting psychological thriller in its dissection of two lives altered in an instant. Despite a fine grasp of English, Javidi spoke to SCREEN-SPACE via a translator ("I want to concentrate on the answers, I don’t want to worry about my translation.”), only hours before being awarded the Best Screenplay honour at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) last November…

“It took me about 11 months to write the script,” says the 35 year-old filmmaker (pictured, above), eager to chat despite feeling the effects of jetlag, having only arrived in Brisbane for the APSA ceremony the morning of the interview.  “But before I even sat down to write, I spent a great deal of time on the structure of the story and how to create my characters. There any many layers to this film, both narratively and in the lead characters.” He cites a personal experience as the inspiration for the premise; six years ago, while staying at a mountain retreat with friends, he was left alone with a newborn and found himself gripped with anxiety while the child slept motionless.

As Amir and Sara, the couple whose lives are irrevocably altered by both fateful circumstance and desperate rationalization, Javidi sought two of Iranian’s most talented and bankable stars, Peyman Moaadi (About Elly, 2009; A Separation, 2011; Camp X-Ray, 2014) and Negar Javaherian (Tala va mes, 2011; Howze Naghashi, 2013; Tales, 2014). Each bought nuance and detail to the protagonist roles, working with the first-time feature director to flesh out the dark but very human dramatics of the story. “The characters undergo experiences that are universal – fear, doubt and the responsibility of being an adult,” notes Javidi.

Leading man Moaadi’s experience working with Iranian filmmaking great Asghar Farhadi on the international hit A Separation was particularly useful; critics have noted the similarities between Farhadi’s everyman protagonists and Javidi’s single-setting character study. Says Javidi of his actor, “He liked the script from the early stages and collaborated with me from very early on. (He was) especially aware of how best he could help a first time filmmaker. He is particularly strong when you need a very realistic presence in your film; he brings a grounded, very human quality to his characters.”

The presence of Moaadi and Javaherian was also a commercial coup, their profiles helping the film find a domestic and international prominence that a first-time director may not usually find forthcoming. “When you have a star name, the doors do swing a little more easily with regard to financing. But I never considered casting (them) as a means to get the film financed,” reassures the filmmaker. “I needed (actors) who could serve the characters and tell the story I wanted to tell.” On the back of universal acclaim (Variety praised the “gripping premise, craftily orchestrated”), Javidi has travelled with his film to Venice, where it opened the prestigious International Critics Week strand, as well as festival slots in Stockholm, Tokyo, Cairo, Lisbon and Zurich ahead of it’s MIFF showing. (Pictured, right; the director with his 2014 Best Screenplay APSA)

One key aspect in creating the intense drama is the rhythmic soundscape conjured by Javidi and his masterful sound designers, Vahid Maghadasi and Iraj Shahzadi. As the clock ticks towards the character’s departure time, ambient sounds begin to clip the actor’s dialogue and seep into the real world tension with shattering effect. “Most of those sounds – the mobile phone noise, the sound buzzer, the sirens – were written into the script, specifically complementing my intentions with the scenes,” says the director. “There was no music soundtrack in the film so it was crucial to use the detailed sound effects to convey the story in the best possible way.”

Finally, driven by the fiercely parochial Sydney-based mindset of the Screen-Space office, we had to ask Nima Javidi why he settled on the admittedly cosmopolitan but decidedly chilly climes of Melbourne as the dream destination for his young Iranians. The director laughed, finally explaining, “Two reasons. First, some surveys came out over the last ten years that nominated Melbourne as one of the best cities in the world, a title that I think it maybe earned a couple of years ago.* And then, I just like the way you guys pronounce it! The way you drop the ‘r’ and make it ‘Melbun’. That’s funny to me. Why waste all that ink!”

*"Melbourne named world's most livable city..." - ABC News, August 2014

Ticketing and venue information for all 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival sessions can be found at the official website here.

Read more about Melbourne in 'The SCREEN-SPACE Ten: Our Favourite Films of 2014'.

Wednesday
Jul012015

THE PLAYER: THE DAVIDSON COLE INTERVIEW.

When Davidson Cole announced his talent in 2002 with his feature debut Design, the film world took notice. The AV Club said his leading man turn had, “…Nicolas Cage-like volatility, (making) for a compelling, put-upon hero”; Variety called his direction, “…comparable to the David Lynch of Blue Velvet”. Thirteen years later, his multi-faceted talents utilised in fields such as video game design, short documentary and experimental filmmaking and fiction writing, the LA-based auteur brings audiences Hollywood, his slightly screwy, darkly-shaded, wildly engaging sophomore effort. Ahead of the international premiere of Hollywood at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival, Cole spoke at length with SCREEN-SPACE about the passion it takes to stay committed to your vision, the origins of his latest narrative and the dark, funny love letter to film lore his new work represents…

You’ve a very eclectic film resume, from the documentary The 95th to Design and now Hollywood. Who are the artists and filmmakers that have inspired your creativity?

The movie that inspired me to make films was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have no desire to ever make a movie like it, but the summer it was released, I must have seen it 20 times. I even knew the inflections of the dialogue by heart. This past year, my favorite film was Godard's Goodbye To Language. His work has always been a touchstone for me. Love Lynch, Altman and Cronenberg. I try to watch American Movie at least once a year, my favorite film about making movies. Sam Shepard's dialogue, especially how he navigates a monolog. Dogs inspire me too. Big fan of dogs.

Hollywood represents the type of adventurous but assured work audiences rarely get to see in this era of ‘palatable product.’ Was the determination to film Hollywood on your terms part of the reason it has been over a decade since Design, which Variety called, “a most auspicious narrative debut,” citing your “fascinatingly complex screenplay and bold direction”?

Following the Sundance premiere of Design, I planned on shooting Angels, this twisted, low sci-fi take on the after life; an ambitious project, tried for years to put it together, with actors attaching then moving on when we couldn't wrangle all the financing. It was frustrating. It can be a time-sink to remain too hopeful on a project getting financed at the expense of creating. The last couple years I've become more focused on what is possible with the resources at my disposal, shooting shorts or micro-budget features. I'm much happier with the prospect of shooting 3 to 4 films for next to nothing, than running around for 3 to 4 years trying to finance something for millions. That being said, I never stop trying to develop big ideas. Before we decided to make Hollywood we were tossing around this psycho-sexual nightmare titled Bathyal; insanely ambitious at the micro-budget level, but doable. After script reads and discussions with my producers Sam (Zuckerman) and Tom (Bailey) (pictured, above; on-set, with the director) and my cinematographer Dominique Martinez, Hollywood emerged as the film within reach, the one with the fiercest hold on my imagination at the time.

How did you pitch the look and decidedly offbeat narrative of Hollywood to potential investors?

I always make it clear to investors that I don't plan on playing it safe as a director but the discussion starts with the script. The narrative flourishes and visual style are rarely apparent for me at that stage. That develops, throughout the process, so I let the script and my past work be the pitch.

The heightened reality of Hollywood is brought to vivid life by some extraordinary characters.  How much of ‘Dave’, ‘Champagne’, ‘Brad Pitt’ and ‘Mary Elizabeth’ was on the page, and how much came alive in rehearsal and on-set?

I don't rehearse with my actors. I enjoy the danger of discovery on-set. I convey my own impressions of a character beforehand with a meeting or two, then rely on the actor to bring their own inner life, make their own choices, adjusting quickly on-set if need be. It seems counter-intuitive, on a micro-budget project, where time is so precious, but it works for me and keeps the cast and crew vibrant and focused on set, and when a moment really hits, is genuine, everyone knows it and that is contagious. (pictured, right; Michael Serrato as 'Brad Pitt', left, and William Belli as 'Champagne').

As important as the eccentric, larger-than-life cast is, the need for two central perfs that ground the film is even more crucial. Tell us about the creating the chemistry with Dana Melanie…

The role was a challenge for Dana, very different from anything else she had ever done. We knew going in Farrah was the toughest role to cast, to execute. My initial vision for the role changed to encompass the innocence Dana naturally brings to the screen, but then there is this strange fire and mischievous flicker that pops into her eyes when least expected. That combo is why we cast her. I was very proud of Dana. (pictured, below; Melanie as Farrah).

You dabble in some well-worn genre clichés – the hooker with the heart of gold; the Las Vegas gambler, in deep with The Mob; the flamboyant homosexual archetype. Yet the story beats, stylisation and drama feel fresh. Is Hollywood your take on classic B-movie lore?

The film is loaded with tropes and references, some more obvious than others, but all of them woven into the narrative with satirical intent. The big film biz is morbidly obsessed with trotting out the same clichés, the same narrative structures. Whenever someone mentions the "Hero's Journey", I get hit with a slight wave of nausea. Audiences are tired of it. As a framing device for the real narrative, I introduced overused tropes then push them into unexpected directions. Familiar territory quickly becomes unfamiliar, unsettling. It was fun finding opportunities to morph a trope then chisel it into our narrative.

Hollywood explores reconciling with one’s heritage. It is inherent to some of your other projects, too – your grandfather’s life and legacy in both The 95th and There is No Car, for example. Why do the ‘sins of the father’ hold such a thematic fascination for you?

While there are certain aspects of my relationship with my own dad in Hollywood, fearing the inability to avoid the failures of your bloodline is more reflective of my dad's experience with his father. Ultimately, as much as he tried to be different, in many ways he wound up making some of the same self-destructive decisions with his own family. It haunts him a bit, I'm sure. I think we all secretly dread the prospect of becoming just like a parent, no matter how healthy or toxic the relationship. The demons of a bloodline are difficult to shake, though.

The tech aspects are very slick – the production design; the cinematography. What was your ‘directorial mantra’ to the key creative crew?

Dominique (pictured, right; on-set) and I spent a lot of time crafting the shots beforehand. She has an amazing eye for composition and many of the most striking shots in the film were the result of her taking our initial ideas and adapting them to the confined space. I wanted long takes, wide shots, subtle moves. Let the action unfold within a single shot as often as possible, which proved a challenge to G & E and production design, since an entire room was in play most shots with the camera moving through the space. Given our limited resources and time, the skill and creative energy of the crew was vital to the visual style of the film.

From here on in, is your career geared towards being before the camera or behind the lens?

Acting for me is the loosest, most chaotic part of the process. I enjoy the physicality of acting and the immediacy of it, but I don't have much interest in pursuing a career as an actor. First and foremost, I consider myself a writer. My ideas always begin with character, with an exchange of dialogue. The narrative and visuals evolve from there. As a director, I base the visual beats of my scene off the characters - who currently has the power, whose point of view matters most at a particular moment - and move the lens accordingly.  Traditional coverage doesn't interest me. I rarely shoot a master shot. I almost never use them in post-production. If the opening beat of a scene warrants an extreme close-up, then we shoot that. If the next beat needs an uber wide to establish the tension of distance, we shoot that. No need to waste time shooting anything else, acquiring coverage. I love Werner Herzog's quote on coverage..."When you do open heart surgery you don't go for the appendix or toenails, you go straight for the beating heart".

Hollywood has its International Premiere at Revelation Perth International Film Festival on Saturday July 4, with further screenings to follow. Ticket and venue information can be found at the official website here.

Tuesday
Jun162015

2015 REVELATION PERTH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: PREVIEW

With East coast film buffs re-engaging with the real world in the wake of Sydney’s 2015 festival season, moviegoers of the Western capital are just getting revved up.

Revelation, Perth’s annual international film festival event, bows its 10-day screening schedule on July 2 at the city's arthouse mecca, The Luna, with director Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin. Starring Aussie acting great Michael Caton (pictured, above; with co-star, Ningali Lawford), the wry comedy/drama follows a terminally-ill outback cabbie as he seeks a painless, dignified final few days in the care of Jacki Weaver’s right-to-die doctor.

The challenging, hot-topic pic may not seem to be the first choice for an opening night ‘party starter’, but program director Jack Sargeant (in conjunction with festival head Richard Sowada) saw a balance of light and dark in the work that was a good fit for Revelation. “It's a movie about life and what living means. I think that we open with films that feel right, that set a mood and inspire conversation,” says Sargeant (pictured, right). “Last Cab… does that, I think. It’s a very human story.

Revelation’s reputation as a key supporter of domestic film output is evident in the three world premieres of locally produced works. They are co-directors Jenny Crabb and Susie Conte’s retro-themed celebration of Perth’s iconic live music venue, Parkerville Amphitheatre: Sets, Bugs and Rock’n’Roll; feature debutant Platon Theodoris’ Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites (a co-production with Indonesia); and the third feature from Stefan Popescu (founder of Sydney’s Underground Film Festival), a melding of the porn and undead genres evocatively titled Vixen Velvet’s Zombie Massacre.

Sargeant was convinced that the three warranted the coveted ‘world premiere’ status, even if the ‘why?’ of Revelation programming remains elusive. “The qualities that we look for are shifting all the time,” he says, hinting at the free-spirited, enigmatic nature synonymous with the event. “A good movie has no set criteria but when you watch it, it works. Some films may not work one year but may another year. There's a sense that the process of curating is also about the relationships between movies as well as just the movies standing alone.

The program strand Get Your Shorts On! focuses on the talents of six locally-based short-form filmmakers (including Kelrick Martin's Karroyul; pictured, right), whose works have received funding from such local entities as ScreenWest, Lotterywest and the Film & Television Institute. International mini-movies feature alongside local works from Bryn Tilly (Umbra) and David Coyle (Enfilade) in the 13-strong Experimental Showcase line-up, which welcomes works from Russia (Andre Silva’s Cybergenesis; Alexei Dimitriev’s The Shadow of Your Smile); the United Kingdom (Point and Untitled014, both from Christopher Macfarlane); and, the USA (Irina Arnaut’s Working Title; Kelly Kirshtner’s A Nice Bowl of Soup).

International features bowing on our shores include expat Australian filmmaker Kane Senes’ moody western, Echoes of War (featuring It Follows star, Maika Monroe); Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia’s haunting sci-fi oddity, H.; Katherine Dohan and Alanna Stewarts’ left-of-centre coming-of-age feelgooder, What I Love About Concrete; the hauntingly beautiful The Creeping Garden, Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp’s study in the properties of plasmodial slime; Belinda Sallin’s melancholy biography Dark Star: HR Giger’s Welt; and, SXSW 2014 Audience Award winner, Yakona, from Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda. Festival hits making their Perth debut include The Tribe, Tehran Taxi, The Duke of Burgundy, Spring and The Forbidden Room.

Perhaps certain to mess with minds more than anything else at Revelations 2015 is the Australian premiere of Asphalt Watches, a Crumb-like work of animated surrealism from Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver. The story of Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat and their hitchhiked journey across Canada in 2000 rattled even the experienced eye of Jack Sargeant. “Asphalt Watches just made me think, 'what the hell?'” he recalls. “Its a glimpse inside some crazy nightmare/dream, a cross between something like South Park and classic underground comix. It has that sensibility that animation can be crazy and stupid and funny and do things nothing else can. I like that.

Sargeant’s encyclopaedic knowledge of and love for music is evident in his programming of Denny Tedesco’s The Wrecking Crew (pictured, right), a tribute to the largely unknown session players that created the LA sound of the 60’s; Theory of Obscurity, Don Hardy Jr’s profile of oddball San Francisco new-wavers, The Residents; Marc Eberle’s study in a country’s musical heritage and unique pop performers, Cambodian Space Project: Not Easy Rock and Roll; the genre deconstruction Industrial Music for the Urban Decay, from Travis Collins and Amelie Ravalec; Robert Nazar Arjoyan’s ethereal study of gender, race and electronic music, When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and The Theremin; and, Wes Orshoski’s biopic-doco of punk trailblazers, The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead.

The cinema of both Iran and Poland will be represented in sidebar events, as will a 10-strong shorts program suitable for family audiences. The RevCon Workshops and Panels feature Festival Patron, actor Steve Bisley (The Power of The Monologue), Last Cab to Darwin director Jeremy Sims (Building Director’s Skillsets; pictured, right) and digital pioneer Craig Deeker (Digital Filmmaking Masterclass). Launching in 2015 is the Film Festival Director’s Forum during which the likes of Sydney’s Nashen Moodley and Iranian Film Festival toppers Anne Demy-Geroe and Armin Milardi dissect festival curation. Returning will be the much-loved Revel 8 mini-fest, celebrating the 8mm film format, and Revelation Academic, the engaging gabfest that allows for voices from all corners of the industry to be heard on the most immediate issues.

I hope that with the academic strand they get the chance to think about new ideas, theoretical and cultural aspects of film, and I hope that with the workshops that they get inspired to pick up cameras and make their own works,” says Sargeant who, since he joined Sowada’s team in 2007, has helped form a unique film festival experience in Australia’s most remote capital city. “I hope that I've introduced audiences to things they'd otherwise not know about, and may otherwise never get to see on the big screen. If there's any legacy, I hope it is that people have the opportunity to see interesting work, meet filmmakers and become inspired. That would be a good legacy for Revelation.”

Full details of Revelation Perth International Film Festival can be found at the event’s official website.

Thursday
Jun112015

UNESCO FETES APSA HONOUREE: THE SHAWKAT AMIN KORKI INTERVIEW

In Paris overnight, before an audience at the world headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), director Shawkat Amin Korki screened his acclaimed third feature, Memories on Stone. A film-within-a-film account of a disparate crew’s efforts to produce an epic based upon the horrific Al Anfar genocide, the Iraqi/German co-production earned the honour after having taken out the prestigious UNESCO Award at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) in Brisbane last November. A few hours before he accepted the trophy (pictured, below; with presenter, actor Jack Thompson) he sat with SCREEN-SPACE to discuss his most personal and acclaimed film to date…

“It is sort of a backstage version of production on my previous films,” said the softly spoken Korki, 42, a Kurdish Iraqi native who has lived in self-imposed exile in Iran for over two decades. Having fled the regime that ruthlessly controlled his homeland, he has forged an international career with his films Crossing the Dust (2006) and Kick Off (2009) finding audience and festival favour globally. Says the director,  “Memories on Stone is an account of many of the experiences that Kurdistani filmmakers must endure when filming in our homeland.” The script was developed after having received in 2011 the Motion Picture Association APSA Academy Film Fund.

The moving, darkly humourous narrative follows childhood friends Hussein (Hussein Hassan) and Alan (Nazmi Kirik) and the tumultuous personal and social hurdles they must overcome to film their pet project – a bigscreen take on the murder of 180,000 Iraqi Kurds under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. From the powerful prologue that puts in context the importance of cinema for both Hussein and his countrymen, we meet such vivid characters as the egocentric celebrity Roj Azad (Suat Usta; pictured, right centre) and Sinur, the meek, troubled teacher (Shima Molaei; pictured, below) who must face her own terrible memories of the massacre if she is to honourably portray victims of the killings.

“The many characters made it very difficult to write,” recalls Korki, “but we were able to focus on Sinur and Roj as key characters. They push the story, even though there are many stories. But somehow, Sinur make’s (the story) very unique and binds all the thematic strands together.”

With meagre budgetary support available and strict controls on content in place, filmmaking in the sector falls to impassioned artists like Shawkat Amin Korki to bring their ambitious visions to life. With Memories of Stone, the task the director set himself was manifestly more difficult. “It was like making two movies but with only one budget,” he recalls. “We shot the two movies concurrently with each other. My co-writer and producer Mahmet Ashktar, and I did not expect it to be such a huge and difficult production for our region, but when we started shooting it proved very difficult, both with the budget and the condition present in Kurdistan.”

In addition to his skill as a storyteller, Korki displays a deft technical touch, switching between film stock and aspect ratios to further delineate between his shoot and the fictional production. “While we were shooting, I knew we had to make the two different films somehow very distinctive,” he recalls. “We shot on different cameras, but I wasn’t sure about switching between 1:85 scope and the (wider) frame to convey the (two narratives) until much later. That decision came during post-production, but proved difficult because I hadn’t shot to the specifics required.”

For Shawkat Amin Korki, his vision for Memories on Stone was as a contemporary testament to the centuries of hardship his fellow Kurds had suffered. “Kurdistan has many tragic moments in its history, perhaps none bigger than Al Anfar,” he states. “The film-inside-the-film was not (originally) about that event, it was more about our old history, but I decided to make it about our present. It is the people of modern Kurdistan that are interpreting our nation’s past and it’s suffering through art and their stories.”

Footnote: As part of the UNESCO screening event in Paris, APSA Executive Chairman Michael Hawkins made the announcement that Shawkat Amin Korki will act as Chair of the APSA Youth Animation and Documentary International Jury for the 2015 APSA ceremony.


Tuesday
Jun022015

PICKING THE 2015 SYDNEY FILM PRIZE WINNER

Since its inauguration in 2008, the Sydney Film Prize has been awarded to works by such filmmakers as Steve McQueen (Hunger, 2008), Yorgos Lanthimos (Alps, 2012), Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, 2011) and Xavier Dolan (Heartbeats, 2010). On the eve of the 62nd festival’s Opening Night bash, SCREEN-SPACE analyses the twelve Official Competition entries and gauges who is leading the race to the nation’s top film festival honour...

ARABIAN NIGHTS (Dir: Miguel Gomes / Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland; 383 mins / pictured, above)
What the Program says…: “Ambitious, indignant and filled with offbeat humour, Miguel Gomes’ extraordinary new film draws on the structure of ‘Arabian Nights’ to create a vivid portrait of Portugal today.”
The Buzz: Taking on all three volumes on Gomes’ six-hour contemporising of 1001 Nights may be this year’s greatest challenge, but it’s the kind of event screening that die-hard festivalists crave (see also Lav Diaz’s From What is Before). Indiewire called the epic “the most ambitious and entertaining film” at Cannes 2015.
Can it win? Lack of international festival kudos to date may hurt it; will be an enormous about-face to 2014, when the top prize went to The Dardennes Brothers minimalist drama, Two Days One Night. A front-runner.

BLACK SOULS (Dir: Francesco Munzi / Italy; 108 mins / pictured, right)
What the Program says…: “Likened to The Godfather and Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, Black Souls is an enthralling story of a Calabrian criminal family and three brothers faced with a crisis with no easy resolution.”
The Buzz: Found lots of love in its homeland, where it took home four trophies from the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Variety noted that it uncovers “the feudal nature of honor” and “is set to be this year’s mafia pic.”
Can it win? Must transcend its genre roots if it is to find favour.

THE DAUGHTER (Dir: Simon Stone / Australia, 96 mins / pictured, right)
What the Program says…: “Simon Stone’s feature film debut is based on his adaptation of Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck. This heart-rending drama about two intertwined families stars Geoffrey Rush, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv, Odessa Young and Sam Neill.”
The Buzz: If the drama on-screen matches the journey that debutant director Stone undertook to get his reinterpretation of Ibsen’s play from the Belvoir Street Theatre stage to a competition slot at Sydney, it will grandly announce the arrival of a new filmmaking force. The prestige pic of the festival for local industry giant, Roadshow Films.
Can it win? Will be in the final mix if it delivers on expectations.

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (Dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon / USA; 105 mins)
What the Program says…: “This wonderfully original film about friendship, creativity, mortality and the love of cinema was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.”
The Buzz: Hot. Sundance has traditionally had the inside running on the US indie scene’s ‘Next Big Thing.’ Reps a breakout film for respected genre auteur Gomez-Rejon (The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 2014; episodes of the TV hit, American Horror Story). Parodies of classic films that feature heavily in the plot (Pooping Tom, Senior Citizen Cane) will play well with festival audiences.
Can it win? Probably not ‘serious’ enough for the Jury’s top honour, but will score high in the audience-voted category. 

A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (Dir: Roy Andersson / Sweden, Norway, France Germany; 100 mins)
What the Program says…: “Swedish cinematic visionary Roy Andersson brings his trademark absurdist humour and singular vision to this winner of the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion.”
The Buzz: If the title shouts ‘pretension’, the joke is that it’s meant to. Veteran Swedish director Andersson has made a subversive, absurdist gem that will feel revelatory to even the most jaded of cinephiles. A great deal has been made of the energy generated by septuagenarian George Miller in Mad Max Fury Road; at 72, Andersson proves the intellectual counterpoint with this remarkable work.
Can it win? The bolter. Won’t sit well with those that think film festivals foster an elitist view of cinema, but a win will be thoroughly deserved. 

SHERPA (Dir: Jennifer Peedom / Australia; 96 mins / pictured, right)
What the Program says…: “This visually stunning and commanding documentary, directed by Jennifer Peedom captures the 2014 Everest climbing season from the Sherpas’ point of view, including the tragic avalanche and its aftermath.”
The Buzz: Expect the greatest ever DVD extras package; as incredible as the onscreen drama is in Jennifer Peedom’s profound work, the behind-the-scenes details of her humanistic Himalayan odyssey are remarkable. This multi-tiered account of life and death on Mt Everest honours the memories of those lost to the mountain with an acute, heartfelt empathy.
Can it win? Since the inception of the Official Competition strand in 2008, neither an Australian film nor a documentary has taken the top prize. That may change in 2015.

STRANGERLAND (Dir: Kim Farrant / Australia; 112 mins)
What the Program says…: “Nicole Kidman makes a welcome return to Australian independent cinema in this striking film about the disappearance of her two teenaged children, and the cop (Hugo Weaving) who tries to solve the case.”
The Buzz: Mixed. High anticipation based upon the pairing of Nicole Kidman and Hugo Weaving, the directorial feature debut of theatre director Farrant and the promise of a ‘Wake in Fright/Picnic at Hanging Rock’-type outback odyssey earned it a Sundance spot, but critics were unimpressed. The Hollywood Reporter said, “The film remains stranded in a sort of genre no man's land.”
Can it win? Long shot. There is festival pedigree – Farrant had her short doco Naked on the Inside compete in 2007; Weaving headed the 2013 jury – but it may not be enough.

TALES (Dir: Rakshan Bani-Etemad / Iran; 88 mins)
What the Program says…: “The latest work from Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Iran’s leading female filmmaker, is a richly layered, episodic look at life in Tehran featuring a stellar ensemble cast. It won Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.”
The Buzz: The Grand Dame of Iranian cinema, director Rakshan Bani-Etemad defied strict governmental controls to craft a series of seven shorts, that she then spliced together to create what may be her crowning achievement. Screenplay winner in Venice and the Grand Jury honoree at the 2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, her study of life in Tehran across the vast expanse of the city’s complex societal structure is a masterwork.
Can it win? The festival’s love affair with the region’s film culture will ensure Tales is a prime contender. Features actor Peiman Moaadi, star of the 2011 Film Prize recipient, A Separation.

 

TANGERINE (Dir: Sean Baker / USA; 88 mins)
What the Program says…: “Wickedly funny and refreshingly offbeat, Tangerine is a hilarious journey with two transgender sex workers through the lively streets of LA. The film is all the more remarkable given that it was filmed entirely on an iPhone 5s.”
The Buzz: Under festival director Nashen Moodley, The Sydney Film Festival has skewed determinedly younger in recent years. If the 2015 Jury is on board with that agenda, expect Tangerine to be high in contention. Shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, Sean Baker’s crowd-pleasing LA night-life romp, “teems with the sort of wry, deceptively offhand details that convey an authentically fascinating sense of place (Variety).”
Can it win? Sydney is not above awarding top honours to ultra-contemporary, left-of-centre works – Nicholas Winding Refn’s flouro-drenched shocker Only God Forgives won two years ago. May surprise… 

TEHRAN TAXI (Dir: Jafar Panahi / Iran; 82 mins / pictured, right)
What the Program says…: “Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, this is the third film made in secret by Jafar Panahi since a ban on filmmaking was imposed on him in Iran, and finds him at his most creative and entertaining.”
The Buzz: The very presence of Iranian great Jafar Panahi places Tehran Taxi amongst key contenders at any festival. Here, his incisive direction is coupled with his affable on-screen charm as he chaffeurs unsuspecting countrymen, engaging them in conversation on the state of their homeland.
Can it win? The Berlinale Golden Bear trophy suggests Panahi’s latest is more than just ‘Taxi Cab Confessions’ Iran style. The Sydney Film Festival has long supported his films; this, his first official nomination, may see him rewarded for his incredible body of work.

VICTORIA (Dir: Sebastian Schipper / Germany; 140 mins / pictured, right)
What the Program says…: “Breathtaking and audacious, this one-shot wonder is a spectacular Berlin heist thriller. Where single-shot films are usually bound to a narrow location, Victoria is expansive, boldly exploring the city over one crazy night.”
The Buzz: A high-voltage blast to the bank robbery genre, director Schipper’s single-shot thriller is a vast, often dizzying technical marvel (not too far removed from the equally inventive Run Lola Run, in which Schipper acted). The illusion of single-take cinema is a hot-button issue at present, thanks to Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman); if Schipper’s vision expands on that offered by the Oscar winner, expect awards glory.
Can it win? Strong odds.

VINCENT (Dir: Thomas Salvador / France; 77 mins)
What the Program says…: “A young man takes on superhuman qualities when he comes into contact with water in this gentle, minimalist French superhero film with a difference, filled with playful humour, deep emotion and constant surprises.”
The Buzz: May be as close to that long-overdue bigscreen version as us closet Aquaman fans will ever get. Understated yet very funny, Salvador’s quirky character study has a disarmingly directionless charm that will win it many fans…
Can it win?…though probably not the Sydney Film Festival top honour.

Ticketing and venue information can be found at the Sydney Film Festival website.