A period of introspection hasn't stopped organisers of this year's Sydney Film Festival from scouring the globe for fresh content and local premieres.
By
8 Apr 2010 - 12:00 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 1:33 PM

We're still a few weeks away from the announcement of the full lineup for this year's Sydney Film Festival (which runs from June 2 - 14), but several of the films gaining traction on the international film curcuit have already been confirmed for Australian premieres.

Berlin's big prizewinners - Wang Quan'an's Golden Bear-winning Apart Together, and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer - are set to screen, as are Sundance hits The Runaways, Cyrus and Exit Through The Gift Shop, the documentary about notoriously camera shy artist Banksy.

Sydney Film Festival organisers have adopted an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' approach to this year's program and are sticking with the program strands or 'pathways' they introduced last year, to help film buffs navigate the film schedule.

Behind the scenes it's a different story, as the festival has very nearly been broke for some time and is in the midst of a significant fix-it exercise as a means to get back in the black. Following a 2009 viability study, the festival reconfigured its board so that it could firm up additional State Govt support. In February it got a much-needed funding boost (from $220,000 to $970,000-per for the next three years), and arts administrator Leigh Small has taken over as chief executive, to oversee the festival's financial rebuild.

With that in mind, it's no surprise that the SFF is remaining a 12-day event, after last year's decision to scrap an extra week in a bid to keep costs down during the financial downturn; the festival has also openly expressed doubts about the likelihood of securing a topline sponsor for 2010 in such a landscape.

But at the end of the day, a festival's only as good as its selections, so here's a taste of the films on offer (sorted into their relevant strands):

FIRE ME UP

The Ghost Writer
Dir Roman Polanski | with Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams | France-Germany-UK
Roman Polanski's sleek political thriller, based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris, revolves around a writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to pen the memoirs of an ex-British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan).

Kawasaki's Rose | Kawasakiho ruze
Dir Jan Hrebejk | with Daniela Kolárová, Martin Huba, Lenka Vlasáková | Czech Republic
Festival favourite Jan Hrebejk (Divided We Fall, Cosy Dens) focuses on a family torn apart when their eminent patriarch is accused of hiding the truth about his actions during Czechoslovakia's totalitarian era; an award-winning, critical hit at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival.

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Dir-Prod Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith | USA
Nominated for an Academy Award, this riveting documentary tells the story of Ellsberg's transformation from trusted Pentagon bureaucrat to anti-war campaigner; and the impact of his decision to leak the 7000-page secret history of the Vietnam War to The New York Times.

FREAK ME OUT

The Loved Ones
Dir-Scr Sean Byrne | with Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, John Brumpton | Australia
Sean Byrne fuses The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Carrie and then hacks the genre to pieces in this alternately gruesome and hilarious Aussie horror about a spurned teenager who bites off as much as she can chew.

Possessed | Bulshin jiok
Dir-Scr Lee Yong-ju | with Nam Sang-mi, Ryu Seung-ryong, Kim Bo-yeon | South Korea
If you don't jump when the shamanist ritual goes awry, or squirm when the caretaker dies in a particularly vomit-inducing manner, then you must be glued to your seat. This bloody Korean tale of a missing girl, her devoutly Christian mother and animistic neighbours is set to be a cult item.

Symbol | Shinboru
Dir Hitoshi Matsumoto | with Matsumoto, Adriana Fricke, David Quintero | Japan
Whacky comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto returns after Big Man Japan with this absurdist meditation on causeand-effect featuring ageing Mexican wrestler 'Escargot Man' and a Japanese guy trapped in a freaky experiment.

LOVE ME

Apart Together, | Tuan Yuan

Dir Wang Quan'an | with Lisa Lu, Ling Feng, Xu Caigen | China
Rippling with quiet humour, Wang Quan'an's politically nuanced tale traces the delicate, autumnal romance between a married woman with grown-up children and her first love who returns to Shanghai after forty years of exile in Taiwan.

I am Love | Io sono l'amore
Dir Luca Guadagnino | with Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini | Italy
Director Luca Guadagnino and actress Tilda Swinton rush headlong into the crumbling empire that is classical melodrama, flaunt their shared awareness of Luchino Visconti's visual splendour and Douglas Sirk's bristling plotlines and create this magnificent contemporary ode to impossible love.

The Messenger
Dir Oren Moverman | with Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton | USA
In this deeply moving film, Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson (in his Academy Award-nominated role) deliver resounding performances as soldiers on the home front who develop a unique friendship through their work notifying the families of war casualties.

MAKE ME LAUGH

Cyrus
Dir-Scr Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass | with John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener | USA
The Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) return with this flawlessly uncomfortable comedy about a forty-something divorcee (John C. Reilly) whose blossoming romance with a single mum (Marisa Tomei) is unexpectedly thwarted by her over-attentive and slyly manipulative son (Jonah Hill).

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Dir Ricki Stern, Annie Sunberg | USA
Raucous, shocking and brutally self-aware, Joan Rivers is the true grand-dame of comedy and this insightful and hilarious documentary, made in her 75th year, peels back the layers of her complex character and reveals much about her trailblazing career.

Mammuth
Dir Benoit Delépine, Gustave de Kervern | with Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Adjani, Yolande Moreau | France
Sporting a gigantic belly and long blond locks, Gérard Depardieu is deadpan funny as the retired
slaughterhouse worker who sets out on his ancient motorbike to track down his former employers in Delépine and de Kervern's typically absurd follow-up to Louise-Michel.

PUSH ME TO THE EDGE

The Game of Death
Dir Christophe Nick | France
Making headlines worldwide when it recently screened in France, this controversial documentary updates the infamous Milgram experiments (a 1960s study in authority and obedience involving volunteers administering electric shocks) to a 21st century game show format with chilling results.

The Robber | Der Räuber
Dir Benjamin Heisenberg | with Andreas Lust, Franziska Weisz | Austria-Germany
Benjamin Heisenberg's gripping drama is based on the true story of a champion Austrian marathon runner and bank robber whose addiction to adrenalin and the thrill of the chase exceeded his interest in the loot and the consequences.

Shirley Adams
Dir Oliver Hermanus | with Denise Newman, Keenan Arrison, Emily Child | South Africa
Oliver Hermanus's powerful debut about a single mother coping with the aftermath of violence is at once intimate and affecting and an incisive account of contemporary South Africa.

TAKE ME ON A JOURNEY

Cairo Time
Dir-Scr Ruba Nadda | with Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Tom McCamus | Canada-Ireland
Patricia Clarkson is stunning as the magazine editor whose diplomat husband is detained in Palestine during her first visit to the Middle East, allowing her time to fall for the city of Cairo and the handsome aide sent to be her guide.

Space Tourists
Dir Christian Frei | Switzerland
As the first female space tourist takes to the skies, scrap merchants hunt down space junk on the Kazakhstan steppes and a visiting photographer captures Russia's crumbling space age monuments. A superbly crafted documentary from Sundance award-winning director Christian Frei (War Photographer, The Giant Buddhas).

The Wind Journeys | Los viajes del viento
Dir-Scr Ciro Guerra | with Marciano Martínez, Yull Núñez, Rosendo Romero | Colombia
A master accordion player, travelling through the stunning landscapes of northern Colombia's Caribbean provinces, is followed by a stubborn teenage boy determined to become his apprentice in this beautiful ode to the region's musical riches.

SOUNDS ON SCREEN

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
Dir Michèle Hozer, Peter Raymont | Canada
'A must-see film for serious music fans' (Variety) featuring previously unseen footage of music genius Glenn Gould, as well as photographs and excerpts from his private home recordings and diaries, and interviews with his close friends and lovers.

Oil City Confidential
Dir Julien Temple | UK
From the UKʼs ace rockumentarian Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury, The Great Rock ʼnʼ Roll Swindle) comes a blistering doco on cult R&B band Dr Feelgood. Band dynamics are laid bare as manic lead guitarist Wilko Johnson recalls the road from their Canvey Island home, to the fleshpots of Londonʼs West End and rocking with The Ramones.

The Runaways
Dir-Scr Floria Sigismondi | with Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon | USA
Charting the rise and demise of the 70s all-girl group that rocked to fame with 'Cherrybomb', music video director Floria Sigismondi's debut features stellar performances from Kristen Stewart as guitarist Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead-singer Cherie Currie.

CREATIVE DRIVE

Beautiful Darling
Dir-Scr James Rasin | USA
The life and times of Candy Darling, Andy Warhol superstar, born James Slattery in suburban Long Island, who found fame in 1960s NY bohemia as the gorgeous blonde star of Factory movies Flesh and Women in Revolt; a remarkable story of resilience, self-creation and the poisonous nature of fame.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Dir Banksy | narrator Rhys Ifans | UK
Reality-shifter and anti-establishment prankster Banksy turns the camera on a French second-hand clothes dealer who becomes an unlikely art star after documenting Banksy himself along with other leading street artists including Shepard Fairey.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno | L'enfer d'Henri Georges Clouzot
Dir Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea | France
Using original footage and camera tests, this compelling documentary pieces together the dramatic production story of an unfinished film starring Romy Schneider by 'the French Hitchcock', Henri-George Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Les Diaboliques).

The full program for the 57th Sydney Film Festival, 2-14 June 2010, will be announced on
Wednesday 5 May 2010.