The Sydney Film Festival is going with ‘Together in the Dark’ as its tagline for its 2014 event, but there’s a lot of light and shade in the program, which was launched with great fanfare (well, coffee and croissants overlooking the harbour) this morning in Sydney.
The 8-day program tops and tails with forays into the dark side, in opening with the hybrid documentary about Australia’s own erudite master of gothic blues, Nick Cave, and closing with a movie about vampires who walk among us – albeit in the form of a mockumentary about a Wellington share house of bloodsuckers, from Taika Waititi and starring Jermaine Clement, We Live in the Shadows.
Things get serious in the middle with the Official Competition contenders – see full details here – in a line-up of 12 films that includes three Australian films premiering with themes of revenge, grief, and survival, and a range of films coming off festival wins at Berlin and Sundance, and a few rushed in from Cannes.
Meet the filmmakers
The Australian premiere of The Rover will have the full support of its team, with Robert Pattinson confirmed to be heading to Sydney for it, along with Guy Pearce and director David Michôd (The Rover premieres in Competition only a week before its local cinema release). Renowned screenwriter Hossein Amini – who penned Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, among other films - will be at the festival this year for the Australian premiere of his directorial debut, The Two Faces of January. The film is an adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel, starring Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen as a high-falutin’ couple holdaying in Athens, whose lives are changed by an encounter with a small-time hustler (Oscar Isaac). Indian writer/director Ritesh Batra will also attend the festival to promote the Indian indie hit The Lunchbox, a romantic fantasy about one wayward lunch delivery in an otherwise extremely efficient office food delivery network.
Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic (Grbavica) will also attend SFF for the premiere of For Those Who tell No Tales, her film about a Sydneysider who holidays in Bosnia, and only belatedly discovers the grisly past of the town of Visegrad, and in particular the hotel in which she stayed during her trip. African filmmaker Khalo Matabane will be in Sydney to present Nelson Mandela: The Myth And Me , his essay about his childhood hero, the late Nelson Mandela, which asks uncomfortable questions about the price that oppressed South Africans paid for their freedom.
International festival favourites
The following films are also coming to Sydney after making waves on the international film festival circuit:
US indie actor/director Zach Braff’s crowdfunded follow-up to Garden State, Wish I Was Here, after its premiere at Sundance.
Eastern Boys, a new film about sex and power by French filmmaker Robin Campillo (The Class and TV’s The Returned), Told in four parts, it follows the trajectory of an unlikely relationship (i.e.: this couple’s ‘meet-cute’ is nothing less than a home invasion). It won the Orrizonto Award for best film at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her – a two-part dissection of a broken relationship, each told from the other’s perspective. It stars Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy as the injured parties, and comes to Sydney direct from its premiere in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.
Love Is Strange sees John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play a newlyweds who encounter opposition to their union from unexpected quarters. It won raves at Sundance – including from us (See our review of the film, here).
Joe – Director David Gordon Green changes gears from his usual path directing comedy (such as Pineapple Express and TV’s Eastbound & Down), and Nicolas Cage steers away from his recent megaplex fare to focus on a smalltown story of redemption.
Miss Violence – the winner of both acting prizes at Venice, this Greek film pieces together a dark family secret in the shocking aftermath of a child’s suicide.
Night Moves – American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) returns with the story of three environmental activists played by Jesse Eisenberg, Peter Sarsgaard and Dakota Fanning.
Tom At The Farm is prolific French Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s story of a man who grieves his dead partner but whose presence at the funeral sets off a series of revelations about the family’s dark past.
At Berkely – a continuation of American factual filmmaker Frederick Wiseman’s analysis of the state of the American education system. It premiered at Sundance.
National Gallery – Wiseman’s latest film, which comes to Sydney from Cannes, and shines a light on Britain’s celebrated art institution
Jodorowsky’s Dune – another addition to the canon of entertaining stories about movies that were never made, Frank Pavich’s film looks at the doomed attempt by Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to mount an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune.
Outside of the Competition program, other local films at the Sydney Film Festival include: actor Josh Lawson’s screenwriting and directing debut The Little Death, a story of five couples grappling with issues of desire; and debutante feature filmmaker writer/director Christopher Houghton’s Touch, starring Leanna Walsman and Matt Day, which is described as a mystery about a woman who has run away with her young daughter in a bid to outrun her past. And Australian talent has a hand elsewhere in the program, with director Fred Schepisi at the helm of Words and Pictures (with Juliette Binoche and Clive Owen) and Emily Browning appearing in the Scottish indie-pop musical made by Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch, God Help the Girl. And there’s a local angle to the inspirational documentary Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars, too. The story of an Iranian teenager with aspirations to become an astronomer was shot by Australian/Iranian cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah.
On the subject of documentaries, the Documentary Australia Foundation Award (the event’s re-titled honour for Australian docomakers) features a new crop of local perspectives on contemporary global issues. The full list of contenders for the top award is as follows:
35 Letters – an exploration of voluntary euthanasia from Janine Hosking.
All This Mayhem – a peek at the self-destructive side of professional skate-boarding from Eddie Martin.
Black Panther Woman – a behind the scenes look at the Australian Black Panther Movement from Rachel Perkins.
The Last Impresario - Gracie Otto attempts to uncover the story of formidable theatre and film producer Michael White, whose story has never been told.
Love Marriage in Kabul - follows an Afghan-Australian woman’s passionate attempt to enable a love marriage to occur in Kabul, from Amin Palangi.
China’s 3 Dreams – a look at the effects of capitalism and commercialism on different Chinese generations, from Nick Torrens.
Once My Mother – Australian director Sophia Turkiewicz won an Australian Directors Guild award just last week for her very personal story about her problematic relationship with the mother who left her in an Adelaide orphanage at an early age.
The Redfern Story - Darlene Johnson’s forceful documentary about the volatile birth of the first all-Indigenous theatre company, the National Black Theatre.
Tender - A look at the Australian town of Port Kembla’s attempt celebrate life by confronting death, by Lynette Wallworth.
Ukraine Is Not a Brothel - Australian filmmaker Kitty Green looks at the price paid by the members of FEMEN, the infamous, naked female protestors of Ukraine.
The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 4 - 15. SBS Movies will have a stream of constant coverage, including reviews, trailers and interviews in the leadup to, and during the festival. Click here for all the latest coverage.