Sandy George eschews high-profile and acquired films for her top 10 list of titles to see at this year's Sydney Film Festival.
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31 May 2013 - 3:29 PM  UPDATED 11 Jun 2013 - 1:33 PM

There's no sign of competition films and special presentations* in this 2013 Sydney Film Festival (SFF) top 10 because, well, they could be seen as the SFF's top 10.

None have Australian distributors attached either, although that may have changed since given how much film buying occurs at Cannes. In other words, the SFF may be the only chance to see them on the big screen.

Many of the 10 runner-ups do have distributors however. They are: An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, A Few Hours of Spring, A River Changes Course, Betrayal, Closed Curtain, Eat Sleep Die, Fallen City, The Land of Hope, Pussy Riot - A Punk Prayer and Soldate Jeanette.

*That said, I'm seeing quite a few on DVD now, such is the lot of a masterclass host and journalist.

Approved for Adoption
While not usually a big fan of animation or child protagonists, this sounds tantalising because it experiments with form – it is a documentary that mixes live action and animation – and because the story is told in two (possibly more) time frames and is autobiographical. And the mother also sounds refreshingly hard-arsed. Jung co-wrote and co-directed Approved for Adoption and is a Korean-born cartoonist who grew up in Belgium. Will the film fit my theory that many of the best filmmakers and actors grow up being 'the other'? It won the audience award at the Annecy Animation Festival.

Fatal Assistance
Writer/director Raoul Peck's drama Moloch Tropical was in official competition at the 2010 SFF and he participated in a series of interviews produced by a colleague and I. No-one impressed me more: his humanity and razor-sharp intelligence shone through. The documentary Fatal Assistance examines both the world's response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed an estimated 220,000 people and how quickly that goodwill disappeared. Including this film is a no brainer. Peck was, briefly in the 1990s, Minister for Culture in the Haiti Government.

F*ck the Forest
Yes, yes, yes. A bunch of Berlin-based hippies like to lounge around naked and raise money for environmental causes by making and selling amateur porn online, and they go to the Amazon to 'help' tribal groups. My skim-the-surface research doesn't provide any hints that young Polish director Michal Marczak is a hopeless documentary filmmaker, but even if he was, this exploration of sexual mores and cultural differences sounds completely riveting.

Layla Fourier
If you can't trust newish SFF director Nashen Moodley to select a fabulous South Africa film, abandon all hope now. After all, he was born and lived in South Africa until he relocated to Australia. Layla Fourier is billed as a portrait of the country and a drama with thriller elements. It tells of a polygraphist with a secret who gets caught up in a cat-and-mouse game. Reviews have been mixed but all seem to agree that the film is impressively ambitious. It received a special mention at the Berlinale. Director/co-writer Pia Marais will be in the house.

Longing for the Rain
Program notes should never be entirely trusted but, judged by them alone, this film about a Beijing woman who takes a supernatural lover sounds like a doozy in terms of style, imagination and its focus on female sexuality. Longing for the Rain is a first feature by writer/director Yang Lina and also promises to be a wonderful window into China's newly affluent class. The film (pictured top) was in competition at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

Nerve
I just can't help it: I always want to be among the first to see a new Australian film. Nerve is a world premiere for director/co-writer Sebastien Guy. Described as a “dark, emotive mystery that looks into the inner struggle of a man tormented by grief and regret”, it is a drama about a man trying to track down his wife's lover soon after she is killed in a car accident. The “promiscuous and troubled girl” in the film makes me wary though: I've seen enough of them on film to last a lifetime. Witnessing the emergence of new filmmaking talent can be an exquisite feeling – and the team will all be there. My fingers are crossed for them.

Ship of Theseus
Indian writer/director Anand Gandhi, a guest of the festival, has studied philosophy and written plays and his debut films sounds like it could be an intellectual tour de force. A stockbroker, a blind artist whose vision is surgically restored, and a monk/activist are the three key characters in this triptych which explores the relationship between mind, body and soul in the face of disease and disability. The 139-minute film won't be coming to a (commercial) cinema near you any time ever.

Television
Those who believe that major film festivals are a perfect way to peer into other cultures, may find it difficult to pass up Television, the first-ever feature from Bangladesh to be included in a SFF program. The use of the word 'satire' in relation to film can be worrying because sometimes it's used for comedies that evoke more sniggers than belly laughs but hopefully this isn't one of them. The story tells what happens after the leader of a local village bans such communication and entertainment devices as televisions and mobile phones.

Vic + Flow Saw a Bear
There were oodles of tempting film fragments in the SFF's launch sizzle reel but this Canadian drama but those from this film stood out. Writer/director Denis Côté delivers his usual boldness, according to the program notes, but this film is driven by character more than his previous films. It's about two women, ex-cons and lovers, in a remote cabin in the woods, and a young sympathetic parole officer. Canada can always be relied on for original films: let's hope this is one even if it is a wacky ride. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear won the Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature that “opens new perspectives” at the Berlinale.

William and the Windmill
Stories that tell of people being plucked out of one world and dropped into another can deliver profound viewing satisfaction and this one was grand jury winner at South by Southwest this year. It tells how a teenager in a remote village in Malawi built a windmill out of junk so that his family could get the electricity that only two percent of that country's population can afford. This led to massive changes for William Kamkwamaba, who ultimately flown to New York by an entrepreneur. William and the Windmill is a feel-good film.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from 5-16 June. Click here to see more of our coverage on the event.