Nashen Moodley opened his second SFF back in 2013 with Ivan Sen’s Oz noir Mystery Road, the story of outsider cop Jay Swann (Aaron Pedersen) and his knack for uncovering nasty conspiracies that lurk beneath the cases of missing outback women. Three years on, Moodley’s returning to the same territory for the Sydney Film Festival opener, by opting to launch the event – his fifth - with Sen’s next instalment of Swann’s saga, Goldstone. The film also marks the start of the official competition of the festival, as it’s one of the 12 films in contention for the $60K Sydney Film Prize. See what it’s up against, here.
The 2016 SFF program includes the Australian premieres of many of the films that have made headlines at international festivals Toronto, Venice, Sundance and Berlin. The Berlin Golden Bear Winner, Fire at Sea, is a serious one to add to your Docs list, but then lighten up with comedies War on Everyone, and Everybody Wants Some!!, which were hits at Berlin and Sundance, respectively.
Acquisitions from Cannes have become more of a fixture in the Sydney line-up in the last five years, but the close proximity of both events (on the calendar, I mean), means that they can be tricky to secure in time for the main program launch. That said, there are two Palme d’Or contenders in the main Sydney Film Festival competition - Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius – as well as others Raman Raghav 2.0 and Apprentice from Cannes sidebars; Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta will get a post-Cannes premiere in Sydney, along with Steven Spielberg’s The BFG. Surprisingly, none of the other big Palme d’Or contenders are State Theatre-bound (including Neon Demon, by two-time Sydney Film Prize winner Nicholas Winding Refn), but maybe don’t rule out a couple of late additions, as happened last year with The Assassin.
SFF is a mid-year launching pad for local films not being held back for a Toronto 2016 world premiere. Oz film buffs can look forward to: Abe Forsyth’s Cronulla riot-themed comedy, Down Under, which paints the incendiary events of 2005 as a clash of idiots; Craig Boreham’s Teenage Kicks is a Greek Australian teens’ coming-of-age/coming out story, which won awards at Melbourne’s Queer Film Festival; playwright Stephen Sewell’s directorial debut, Embedded, a sexy story of a couple whose one night stand goes to dark places; Oz/Filipino boxing drama Beast; and body image doc Embrace, which paints a sorry portrait of global attitudes about body image.
Two films from Asia which each sparked controversy at home, are likely to be hot festival tickets. Under the Sun started life as a North Korean government sanctioned documentary about ‘daily life’ in the Hermit Kingdom, but Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky fell out of favour with the authorities after he had shot a substantial amount of footage. Mansky took the raw footage of the film – which is ostensibly an observational documentary about an angelic 8-year-old patriot and her picture perfect family – and assembled it away from the prying eyes of his former joint venture Government partners; the result has been likened to The Truman Show. Ten Years (Hong Kong) rankled Chinese government officials when it was nominated for – and won – the top award at the Hong Kong Film Awards. It was yanked from cinemas and dismissed as a “thought virus” by the state media. A portmanteau of five dystopian visions of Hong Kong in 2025, it paints a pessimistic vision of pre-pubescent secret police, regular assassinations and forcible assimilation with the mainland. For something completely different from South East Asia (by way of Berlin), check out Fukushima, Mon Amour. A darkly funny ‘radiation vacation’ story, shot within Japan’s nuclear disaster exclusion zone, it got a rapturous response at the Berlin Film Festival. German director Doris Dörrie (Cherry Blossoms) unites a disaster survivor with a former Fukushima geisha on a road trip to remember.
The suave Brit Tom Hiddleston has appeared on local screens in The Night Manager (coming soon to SBS), but it’s been a while since we’ve seen him in a non-Marvel role on the big screen. That’s about to change as SFF goes both a little bit country and a little bit rock’n roll with a Hiddleston double: he headlines the country crooner Hank Williams biopic, I Saw the Light and Ben Wheatley’s story of elevated class warfare, High Rise.
New queer cinema from around the world includes: a story of a rodeo cowboy who dreams of being a designer (Neon Bull); a complex award winner from Venezuela, about the power dynamic between a rent boy and his older John (From Afar); a closeted US/Korean teen’s exposure to a spa (Spa Night); a film about marginalised LGBTQI Korean nationals, and refugees from North Korea (Stateless Things); docs about gay ballroom (Kiki), Madonna’s dancers (Strike A Pose) and an acclaimed Israeli choreographer (Mr Gaga). Elsewhere in the program, French septuagenarian André Téchiné taps back into Wild Reeds territory with the surprisingly youthful Being 17, and Irish filmmaker Paddy Breathnach tells a very Cuban story of queer ambition in Viva.
There’s only one film by a female director in the official competition (Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women), but elsewhere in the program you’ll find gems like Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s beautiful story of five feisty sisters kept under lock and key, in French/Turkish language Oscar nominee Mustang, and a wrenching Palestinian film about mothers behind bars, 3000 Nights. Strong female-centric stories are also found in Indian ‘female buddy comedy’ Angry Indian Goddesses by Pan Nalin (Samsara) and of course, Almodovar’s femme-centric Julieta.
SBS Movies will have daily news and reviews in the lead up to the festival opening night on June 8.
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