Three Australian films, an Iranian slasher movie and a treasure hunt-themed homage to the Coen Bros’ Fargo are among the 12 contenders for the Sydney Film Prize, the major award of the Sydney Film Festival.
In a break from tradition, the Official Competition will get underway on opening night (June 4), as this year's opening night film, the Nick Cave-focussed hybrid doc 20,000 Days on Earth, is in the running for the $60,000 cash prize.
Since being launched in 2008 the prize has been the focal point of the Sydney Film Festival, for better and worse, given the festival jury's decisions can tend to fall out of favour with the army of amateur enthusiasts and festival devotees.
It will screen up against David Michôd’s The Rover, Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody’s Ruin and first-time feature director Kasimir Burgess’ Fell, which will each have their Australian premieres in the Official Competition section of the Sydney Film Festival. The 2014 lineup marks the largest field of Australian contenders since the award's inception in 2008.
Michôd’s film premieres in Sydney only weeks after its international debut at the Cannes Film Festival, and just a week shy of its Australian cinema release via Roadshow films. The Rover stars Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce as two men forced into an unlikely partnership in a post-apocalyptic Australia ravaged by mining disputes and gangland warfare. Renowned experimental filmmaking team of Courtin-Wilson and Cody have set Ruin in Cambodia (and shot the film there), and the film takes the aftermath of the genocide as its primary subject matter. Burgess, meanwhile, explores themes of grief and guilt in his first feature, Fell, which stars Matt Nable as a man mourning the death of his child in a hit-and-run accident.
All three local films will screen in a Competition line-up that also features: this year’s Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear-winner, Chinese noir thriller Black Coal, Thin Ice; Richard Linklater’s Sundance Film Fetival standout, the rites of passage chronology Boyhood; and the tense story of a life-changing drive through LA, shot in real-time with Tom Hardy as the lone driver, Locke.
The Sydney Film Prize, now in its seventh year, awards its cash prize to the film that best demonstrates “emotional power and resonance; is audacious, cutting-edge, courageous; and goes beyond the usual treatment of the subject matter”.
Judging by those definitions, the world’s first Iranian slasher comedy Fish and Cat is in with a chance. Filmed in a single take, it follows a group of students who are camping in a desolate region, close to a greasy spoon restaurant run by two unscrupulous cooks who roam the forest for meaty ingredients. The film – its makers say – is inspired by real-life headlines.
Fans of Fargo (both the movie and the new SBS series inspired by it) will be keen to snap up tickets to Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, which takes its storyline from the famous Coen Bros crime caper. A lonely Japanese woman convinces herself that the treasure central to plot of the film is actually buried in the snowdrifts of Minnesota and she sets off to claim it. The film premiered at Sundance this year (and won an award for its music) and is made by another pair of sibling directors, David and Nathan Zallner, with Alexander Payne taking an executive producer credit.
A new film by the Dardenne Brothers - Two Days, One Night, which stars Marion Cotilliard as a shift worker fighting for her livelihood - is also screening hot on the heels of its world premiere at Cannes. A curious re-telling of the botched abduction of French author Michel Houellebecq – in which the author stars as himself - also screens, alongside Bong Joon-ho’s first English-language film, Snowpiercer. Bong's film is based on the French graphic novel and stars Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton in its story of an impending ice age. It comes to Sydney after its world premiere in Berlin and rounds out the list of 2014’s top shelf contenders.
The full list of films In Competition is as follows:
20,000 Days on Earth (Australian Premiere)
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Australian Premiere)
Boyhood (Australian Premiere)
Fell (World Premiere)
Fish & Cat (Australian Premiere)
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter (Australian Premiere)
Locke (Australian Premiere)
Ruin (Australian Premiere)
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (Australian Premiere)
The Rover (Australian Premiere)
Two Days, One Night (Australian Premiere)