Sandy George started with a list of 30 films she wanted to see in the Sydney Film Festival, then whittled it down to a top 10. Her reasons provide a few insights into her personality because choosing what and what not to see is a very personal thing. Most of the films below are screening during the second week of the event.
4 Jun 2014 - 11:48 AM  UPDATED 4 Jun 2014 - 1:17 PM

Beijing Ants and Mothers

I can’t choose between these two very different contemporary Chinese documentaries from the spotlight on China so I’m including both.

Beijing Ants director Ryuji Otsuka turns the camera on himself, his wife and their child, during a search for affordable housing in the over-crowded Chinese capital. He’s Japanese and outsiders often have a more interesting take on a society than natives, which is partly why it appeals.

In Mothers, director Xu Huijing examines the one-child policy and the sterilisation of women through the prism of his own rural hometown. Especially given the mooted relaxation of the policies, this is a timely documentary that has been funded by CNEX, a non-profit foundation that has supported many documentaries that burrow deep into China. This review in The Hollywood Reporter promises astounding access to the bureaucrats imposing the country’s policies.

The trailers are here and here. Or have a Chinese feast by booking all seven Chinese films in the program.


Black Panther Woman

I would never not see any film or television program made by Rachel Perkins, particularly because the effect on me of her mournful musical One Night the Moon and the groundbreaking documentary series First Australians, but also because of the good-heartedness of the feature Bran Nue Dae. That’s why I’ve chosen Black Panther Woman from the Documentary Australia Foundation Award finalists (here’s the full list). A woman called Marlene Cummins is at the centre of the story and the content sounds gripping. She was a teenager when she joined the Black Panthers in Brisbane in the early 1970s, and 30 years later she speaks out about that experience. The SFF program tells us it is a disturbing story told with great sensitivity. (Coincidentally, Perkins is president of the jury for the main competition.)



I generally avoid the US films in the SFF program, because they take up too much space in cinemas year-round, and I generally don’t put films from the main competition in my top 10 selections because they also get too much attention. But Boyhood is just too tantalising to ignore and it’s got an 8.8 score on Writer/director Richard Linklater made Boyhood over 12 years, and during that time, leading man Ellar Coltrane went from a boy of 6 or 7 (I have conflicting info on this) to an 18 year-old. In other words, we watch him grow up on screen! And SFF audiences will meet this young man because he’s a guest of the festival. There’s a shot in the trailer here where Coltrane’s character Mason looks astounding like Ethan Hawke, who plays his on-screen father. Watch for Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, playing Samantha – she talks here about what “a trip” it is for her watching the film – and for the SFF documentary Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater. The full list of competition films is here.



The Guard was the first collaboration between actor Brendan Gleeson and writer/director John Michael McDonagh and it made me roll around on the floor laughing. (Maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the point.) Their second collaboration therefore has to be funny but I’m extremely curious about how it can be given that the underlying subject matter is sexual abuse by priests. Gleeson plays a priest expecting to be murdered in Calvary but, I hasten to add, a good priest not a bad one. The action is set in a small Irish town and Chris O’Dowd from The Sapphires plays a local butcher, as can be seen in the trailer here. Calvary is one of 14 special presentations, all of which are worth seeing. But bear in mind most have local distribution so there are likely to be other opportunities to see them on the big screen. Peruse them here.

Read review


Concerning Violence

I was gutted by the experience of watching John Pilger’s Utopia – it’s currently free to watch on SBS On Demand until June 14 – so this film about colonialism in Africa immediately caught my attention. It will be a tough watch but it also sounds like a wonderful experiment in filmmaking with its use of archival footage, a philosophical text and a singer-rapper. The introduction to the review by’s chief film critic Mark Adams reads: “A powerful, illuminating and visually arresting documentary that offers a fresh perspective on the African liberation struggles of the 1960s and ‘70s, Göran Hugo Olsson’s striking Concerning Violence makes for compulsive and at times disturbing viewing as it tackles colonial rule head on, benefiting from singer Lauryn Hill’s striking narration – also repeated on the screen – taken from psychologist/philosopher Frantz Fanon’s anti-colonial text, The Wretched Of The Earth.” The trailer is here.



Tales of human rights violations, especially those about women, are both hard to ignore for me and potentially confronting. Writer/director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari says here that 40 percent of adolescent girls in Ethiopia are abducted for the purpose of marriage and positions the film as being about the conflict that happens when old traditions start to break down. The true story upon which the film is based happened 18 years ago and was precedent-setting in legal terms. Audiences in Berlin judged Difret the best fiction in the panorama section and audiences in Sundance awarded it best film in the dramatic world cinema section. That speaks loudly. The chilling trailer is here.


Fish & Cat

For the fifth consecutive year, Jim Poe has edited the SFF program. Rather than give him the medal he deserves, I asked for his recommendation from the 64 pages. This is what he said: “Films like Fish & Cat are what makes SFF’s official competition so special. This very weird single-shot Iranian film is unlikely to be distributed in Australia, or anywhere, yet here’s a chance to see something truly, jaw-droppingly original on the big screen at the State. It’s essentially a slasher movie made of nothing but exposition; its implosiveness will frustrate some, but the more its trippy, meandering plot unspools, the more it fascinates. It’s worth seeing for the stupendous single shot alone – beautifully done by Mahmud Kalari, who shot A Separation; more amazing for incorporating surreal dreams and flashbacks. Picture Lynch’s creepy existential dread crossed with Kiarostami’s obsessive experimentation and Jarmusch’s wild style. It’s crazy, flawed, fun and hard to forget.” Thanks Jim. Here’s the trailer.


Jodorowsky’s Dune

“I wanted to make a film that would give the people who took LSD the hallucinations you get with that drug, but without hallucinating,” says Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowsky in the trailer for this documentary, which is about his ill-fated attempt to adapt Peter Herbert’s book Dune. (It was eventually directed by David Lynch and produced by Raffaella De Laurentiis, daughter of Dino.) That quote, the passion Jodorowsky still clearly has for his adaptation of Dune and the interviews secured by director Frank Pavich convince me that this will be a gem. I just hope it also explains why the project floundered despite the likes of Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles all being attached.


Of Horses and Men

Pardon the pun, but wild horses couldn’t drag me away from this film. I’m a sucker for animals and for human-animal interaction and Of Horses and Men offers a series of vignettes that are exactly this – and I’m pleased to inform you that the word “men” in the title actually means “people”, i.e. women too. The fictional film is set in Iceland where the importation of foreign horses is banned, and the more reviews I read, the more excited I got about the “flabbergasting images”, “idiosyncratic characters” and “seductive strangeness”. In the photograph used in the SFF program, a black stallion has mounted a white mare, apparently uncaring that the mare’s proud owner was in the saddle at the time. Because of all my review-reading I won’t be surprised by what happened next; I suggest avoiding the reviews so you will be surprised. The debut by writer/director Benedikt Erlingsson has won several awards.


The Reunion

The Reunion first caught my eye because in the last two years I have been hanging around with conceptual artists and have learned to appreciate their take on the world. Upon digging deeper this Swedish film sounded more and more intriguing. It is in two parts. First, the character Anna, played by writer/director Anna Odell, who comes from the world of conceptual art, gatecrashes and disrupts a fictional school reunion. Then (the real) Anna Odell – with her film under her arm – confronts the real-life people who bullied her at school 20 years earlier. Or she attempts to, anyway. I think big city festivals have an obligation to offer daring, innovative films and the line between fiction and fact is clearly very blurry in The Reunion. It sounds fabulously audacious. A Q&A with Odell about her debut film is here. She caused quite a stir when she re-enacted a psychotic episode on a bridge in Stockholm for her graduation art project – she was fined US$340 – and some media reports about this are here. Reunion won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2013 Venice Film Festival.

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