Impressive in scope and continuing to expand its vision even as it heads into its 62nd incarnation, the Sydney Film Festival launched the 2015 programme at Customs House in the Harbour City’s picturesque Circular Quay district this morning. Festival director Nashen Moodley beamed with pride when speaking of the 12-day schedule that kicks off June 3 and features more than 250 films from 68 countries.
Addressing a packed media gallery and in the presence of dignitaries that included The Honorary Troy Grant, State Minister for The Arts, and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Moodley described this years film roster as, “political, sexy and entertaining,” and assured all that the selection featured, “uncompromising visions, that were sure to provoke and challenge.” In his welcoming statement published in the festival’s programme, he referred to the event’s 2015 theme, ‘We Are Made of Movies’, revealing that, “it might seem obvious at first, but it’s one that unfolds to reveal just how complex and central the role of cinema is to the human experience.”
As previously announced, Opening Night honours have been bestowed upon actor/playwright Brendan Cowell’s feature directorial debut, Ruben Guthrie. The event will close out with Neil Armfield’s same-sex romantic drama, Holding the Man (pictured, right), on June 14. It is the first time homegrown fare has filled the coveted slots since 2001, when Ray Lawrence’s Lantana and Steve Jacob’s La Spagnola topped and tailed the celebration.
Twelve titles will vie for best of the fest as part of the Official Competition line-up. Local contenders include Kim Farrant’s missing-child drama Strangerland, with Nicole Kidman and Hugo Weaving; Jennifer Peedom’s affecting documentary Sherpa, shot against the rugged landscapes of Mount Everest; and, Simon Stone’s family drama The Daughter, with Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto and US actor Paul Schneider. Overseas fare includes Me and Earl and The Dying Girl (pictured, top), Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Sundance winner; Miguel Gomez’s 6½ hour reimagining of the classic, Arabian Nights, transported to the Portugal of today; and, Sean Baker’s highly-touted Tangerine, an urgent, often hilarious look at life on the streets of LA shot and entirely with an iPhone.
The Documentary Australia Foundation will again present its Documentary prize to the outstanding locally-made factual film. Amongst the ten films up for the honour will be new works from Gilliam Armstrong (Women He’s Undressed), Andrew Lancaster (The Last Aviator), Maya Newell (Gayby Baby) and Steve Thomas (Freedom Stories). Arthouse leader Dendy Films will reward our leading short-film artisans, with ten mini-movies bidding for one of the three categories on offer (amongst the contenders, Oscar winner Adam Elliot with his latest, Ernie Biscuit).
Highlights from the vast array of World Premiere screenings scheduled include Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin, featuring an all-star Australian cast lead by Michael Caton (pictured, right) and Jacki Weaver; Wide Open Sky, Lisa Nicol’s feel-good account of an outback kids choir (to screen in the newly-launched Family Films sidebar); and, a big-screen airing for Daina Reid’s mini-series adaptation of Kate Grenville’s bestseller, The Secret River, starring Sarah Snook.
Special event strands include Destruction Cinema, a rebellious genre from the 60s and 70s that brutally assaulted the conventions of contemporary film, to be represented by five films including Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small (read the Screen-Space feature on the film's production here) and Jackie Raynal’s Deux Fois; Focus: South Africa reflects the festival director’s roots in the cinema of Africa and will welcome filmmakers Sibs Shongwe-La Mer and Francois Verster; an evening of retro bliss, with the double feature Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956; pictured, right) and the giant ant movie, THEM!, screening at Blacktown Drive-in; and, Essential Bergman, a mammoth ten film retrospective compiled by internationally-renown critic and former SFF director, David Stratton, that will span the great Swedish director’s career from 1955’s Smiles on a Summer Night to 2003’s Saraband.
Arguably the hottest ticket at the 2015 Sydney Film Festival will be Alex Gibney: In Conversation, a live Q&A with the acclaimed director who will screen and discuss his incendiary documentary, Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief.
Popular programme staples returning in 2015 include Variety critic Richard Kuipers’ horror sessions, Freak Me Out, which will feature two works from festival guest Ant Timpson - Deathgasm and Turbo Kid; for the musically-minded, Sounds on Screen will present the Australian premieres of Asif Kapadia’s highly-anticipated bio-doc Amy, and the French buddy-road drama Max & Lenny, from Fred Nicolas; and Restorations, which will present fully-restored director’s cuts of Mark Christopher’s 54, Armenian Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates, Bong Joon-ho’s Korean thriller Mother (the 2009 classic remastered in monochrome by the director), and Djibril Diop Mambety’s 1973 landmark Senegalese work, Touki Bouki.
There was some muttering amongst cinephiles during the post-launch dissection about the notable no-shows, including Australian director Justin Kurzel’s Cannes-bound Macbeth, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender; Woody Allen’s latest, Irrational Man, with Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone; actress Natalie Portman’s directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness; and, Hungarian auteur Kornel Mundruczo’s canine thriller, White God.
Full programme details for the 2015 Sydney Film Festival can be found on the event’s website.