It's been nearly three weeks since it was announced that I would be presenting films on SBS ONE on Saturday nights. Since then I've been a wee bit surprised by the number of friends, family and acquaintances who have wanted to know not just what films would be screening but why and how those films were chosen.
SBS senior programmer Brennan Wrenn says he aims to license the best of world cinema across a range of genres. He wants to fill this new 9.30pm primetime spot with the best examples of the art form, judged from a critical, commercial and/or creative point of view. He wants winners from Cannes and other major festivals, films that have captivated worldwide audiences, work by admired directors and films that provide insights into different cultures and issues.
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Babel, a consummate piece of filmmaking that earned Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu the best director award at Cannes, Woody Allen's very sexy Vicky Christina Barcelona and Tom Ford's oh-so-stylish A Single Man are probably the best-known films in the first 13-week season. All of them easily stand up to being viewed again and again.
The French rom-com Heartbreaker, the wacky German comedy Soul Kitchen, the British thriller Harry Brown and the Russian/German/Kazakhstan drama Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan are examples of the great diversity of genre, origin and subject matter.
Brennan sees what's being produced across the world by attending film festivals – he's just been to frosty Gothenburg for its film festival and will head on to the Berlinale – and keeping himself informed through international trade publications such as Screen International and Variety.
Some films that would suit SBS are tied up in ongoing output deals between other Australia broadcasters and movie suppliers – including the Hollywood studios, which control some arthouse and crossover titles as well as mainstream blockbusters – but after 25 years of buying movies, the multicultural broadcaster has strong relationships of its own. It also has the advantage of facing very little competition for subtitled films in this market.
Usually, most films can be shown on television three times over five years under SBS's deals. Starting this year, SBS has negotiated for most of the films being shown on Saturday nights to be subsequently available free-of-charge for a short time on SBS On Demand, a development that will be greatly appreciated by movie fans.
The season starts this Saturday February 9 at 9.30pm with Boy, a funny, endearing, imaginative and thoroughly New Zealand tale. The immensely talented Taika Waititi hasn't just written the script and directed the film: he also plays the father. Screening immediately afterwards is his earlier film Eagle vs. Shark, starring Jemaine Clement, whom many viewers would know from the cult television series Flight of the Conchords.
In presenting these films, I'm very aware that I'm endorsing them too; I feel totally comfortable doing so because it's a top line-up of world cinema.