The Sydney Film Festival seems to be making a concerted effort to address gender disparity in the film industry in its 2016 program, prominently showcasing a great selection of works by female directors. This can not only be seen in the European Cinema: 10 Women Filmmakers to Watch section co-presented with Variety, but also across the program more broadly. Here's a selection of some of the best.
Director: Kelly Reichardt
A new Kelly Reichardt film is always cause for celebration. She's responsible for some of the best American independent films of the last decade, such as Meeks Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy, films marked by a fierce intelligence, precise style and a certain fondness for the drifters of society. Certain Women sees Reichardt team up with Michelle Williams again, alongside costars Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern, to tell the interconnected stories of three Montana women. It looks to be a strong contender in the Official Competition, having premiered to rapturous reviews at Sundance.
No Home Movie
Director: Chantal Akerman
The film world suffered a devastating loss last year with the passing of Belgian filmmaker and pioneer of feminist cinema, Chantal Akerman. This year, the festival pays tribute to her by screening her final film, No Home Movie, a moving and intensely personal portrait of her relationship with her mother, Natalya. They're also showing a digitally restored version of her most famous work, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which she made at age 25.
Heart of a Dog
Director: Laurie Anderson
Heart of a Dog is the product of artist, musician, and partner of the late Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson. It's been a long time between films for Anderson, whose previous feature Home of the Brave (1986), screened 30 years ago at the 1986 Sydney Film Festival. A personal essay film comprised of a wild medley of photos, animations, poetry, reenactments, surveillance footage and home movies, it's Anderson's cinematic tribute to her late mother, partner Lou Reed and, of course, her dog Lolabelle.
Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
This satirical comedy from Greek New Wave figurehead Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg) has, for my money, the most intriguing and hilarious premise of any film from this year's program. (Yes, even better than the "farting corpse" movie.) Six men. One luxury yacht. One game: to decide who among them is "the best in general", through a series of increasingly bizarre contests involving everything from IKEA furniture assembly to penis measuring. Posing pointed criticisms of machoism, Chevalier looks to be one for those who appreciate their humour black and their masculinity, well, deconstructed.
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
One of the most buzzed-about films of 2015, the Oscar-nominated Mustang finally makes it to Sydney after festival screenings in Melbourne and Brisbane. Telling the story of five orphans in rural Turkey forced into arranged marriages, Mustang is, as director Deniz Gamze Ergüven put it in an interview with SBS, "a film about what it is to be a woman". Ballarat-born Bad Seed Warren Ellis also picked up a César for the film's original score.
Director: Lucile Hadžihalilovic
Now for something a little different. Tucked away in the Freak Me Out section is French director Lucile Hadžihalilovic's Evolution, her long-awaited follow-up to the 2004 cult favourite Innocence, which starred Marion Cotillard as a teacher at a mysterious girls private school. An atmospheric mystery centering around a world inhabited only by women and young boys, Evolution is recommended by Freak Me Out programmer and Variety critic Richard Kuipers as a top pick for fans of SFF 2015 highlight, Goodnight Mommy.
Director: Rebecca Miller
No Sydney Film Festival is complete without at least one sassy New York comedy. This year, filling the shoes of Frances Ha (2013), Appropriate Behaviour (2014), and Nasty Baby (2015) is Maggie's Plan. The latest from director Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee), the film stars ultimate gal about town, Greta Gerwig, as a single thirtysomething career advisor who decides to have a child on her own. Julianne Moore appears in one of the funniest performances of her career as a severe anthropology professor with a very tight top bun and seriously OTT Danish accent – worth the price of admission alone.
What's in the Darkness
Director: Wang Yichun
Director Wang Yichun draws heavily on personal experience in her Berlinale-selected debut feature, choosing to set it in her hometown province of Hebei, China. A crime procedural that takes a stab at traditional gender roles, it stands out as one of the few Chinese films in this year's program, and one of the most exciting as it heralds a fresh new talent. Wang Yichun will be in Sydney to attend the screenings.
Director: Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami
One of the top billings in the International Documentaries section, Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Sonita follows a young Afghan refugee in Iran who dreams of becoming a superstar rapper, a dream that is threatened by being forced into an arranged marriage by her family. Shot over a three-year period, the film has raised ethical discussions concerning filmmaker-subject relationships, with director Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami deciding to take an active role in determining Sonita's fate.
Director: Sara Jordenö
This Berlinale Teddy award winner picks up where iconic 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning left off, following the LGBTQ youth who make up the members of the Kiki Scene – a vibrant subculture dedicated to the art of ballroom voguing. Praised for its uplifting and unpatronising representation of the group, Kiki has been winning over audiences from Sundance to Berlin and was named as one of the queer highlights of this year's festival by programmer Jenny Neighbour.
Sydney Film Festival runs June 8-19.