The program of the 2017 Sydney Film Festival was announced today, with news that Warwick Thornton’s provocative We Don’t Need a Map will open the event on June 7, and close with Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (screening out of competition) 11 days later.
Thornton’s film focuses on the complicated history of Australia’s relationship with The Southern Cross, a symbol of rebellion – and lately, of nationalism. The film, which will debut on SBS and NITV after the festival, asks tough questions about who we really are as a nation by examining the cultural place of the Southern Cross constellation in the Australian psyche. The director will be in attendance for the premiere and for Q&A screenings.
Bong’s film will screen at Sydney direct from its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the visionary Korean will be in attendance to present his corporate sci-fi thriller to Sydney audiences.
Thornton’s film will compete for the Sydney Film Prize, which celebrates "‘audacious, cutting-edge and courageous’ film. Thornton faces stiff competition from Michael Haneke , Sofia Coppola, Aki Kaurismäki, to name but a few, whose new films are all debuting in Sydney direct from their world premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, and Oscar-nominated Raoul Peck.
The full list of contenders for the 2017 Sydney Film Prize are:
We Don’t Need A Map
Thornton takes us on a journey through the Southern Cross' astronomical, colonial and Indigenous history to the present day. The director explores the spiritual meaning of this heavenly body for First Australians, and by contrast, its application as a symbol of protest and defiance - first for Eureka Stockade agitators and lately, for a darker element within the Australian population.
Sofia Coppola's eerie Civil War thriller pits the repressed household of Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kristen Dunst in fierce competition for the attentions of an injured Union solider, Colin Farrell, who seeks shelter at their Confederate boarding school.
In this taut drama about the psychological repercussions of abuse, Rooney Mara plays the titular character, who at the age of 13 had a sexual relationship with a man much older than her (played by Ben Mendelsohn, who will be in attendance at the festival).
Franco-Selengalese director Alain Gomis won the Silver bear in Berlin this year for his story of a determined mother's attempt to raise money for her injured son's medical bills. Félicité is a club singer by night, who keeps patrons enthralled when she belts out melancholic numbers. An unlikely benefactor helps her find a path towards helping her son get back on his feet.
The dream team reassembles in Austrian master Michael Haneke's new film with Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour). The Palme d'Or contender Happy End is a Calais-set story of a middle-class family set to the backdrop of the refugee crisis. The film also stars Mathieu Kassovitz. Guaranteed to have anything but a happy ending - and guaranteed to have everyone on Market Street tweeting same afterwards.
I Am Not Your Negro
The Oscar-nominated documentary weaves a narrative about the perpetuation of a manufactured negative image of 'Blacks in America', using the words of the late essayist and social commentator James Baldwin. The eloquence of Baldwin's searing critique of American policy and everyday racism in the 1960s has a shocking resonance today. This will be a tough one to beat in the Sydney Film Prize competition.
My Happy Family
Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross
This Georgian film first premiered at Sundance, and follows a woman who decides to pack up and leave her family on the eve of her 52nd birthday. Manana twigs that after 25 years as a devoted wife and mother, it's her time to shine, and she declares her intentions to shake things up and get her own apartment.
On Body And Soul
Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi won the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival for her surreal rom-com that juxtaposes (with brutal efficiency) the mating habits of animals and humans - and there are no prizes for guessing who comes off second best in that comparison.
Watch the trailer (no English subs, sorry)
The Other Side of Hope
Deadpan Fin Aki Kaurismäki won the Silver Bear in Berlin for his story of an asylum seeker and his burgeoning relationship with a surly restaurant owner. At first glance, it looks to be a return to the quirky compassion of his Le Havre, which ain't necessarily a bad thing.
Mexican director Amal Escalante, who earned his reputation for shock and provocation with Heli a few years ago, returns with another family/social drama that promises to go very dark, very quickly. The Untamed focuses on an unhappily married couple whose life changes when a strange creature surfaces in their regional town, and blends the lines between sex, love and death.
Wolf And Sheep
This Afghan slice-of-life drama is a holdover from last year's Cannes Film festival, where is screened in Director's Fortnight. Young filmmaker Shahrbanoo Sadat draws upon the folklore of her remote mountain home to present a picture of life far removed from the typically western idea of a war-ravaged danger zone.
Singaporean director Kristen Tan won a screenwriting award at Sundance for her unlikely buddy comedy about a burnt-out Thai architect and his long-lost elephant. The pair returns to the farm where they grew up, and the man confronts some hard truths about his life choices.