Sydney in 1954 was a very different place: the White Australia policy was in effect, hotel bars were forced to close their doors at 6pm and gender equality was non-existent. Australia’s first 35mm colour documentary feature, The Queen In Australia was made as a result of Her Majesty’s trip down under and it was also in this year that the very first Sydney Film Festival was held at Sydney University on a cold winter’s night. Screened across four halls offering 1,200 tickets, it completely sold out.
Six decades have passed and the technology has grown in leaps and bounds, as has the number of films now screened at the festival. From humble beginnings of just 42 features and shorts shown on borrowed projectors, this year’s Sydney Film Festival is screening over 150 short, feature and documentary films at various venues across the city.
“It’s not just an annual event,” says Festival Director Nashen Moodley. “It’s decades of dreams shared in the dark.”
New films are regularly being added to the festival program, most recently Sophia Coppola’s The Bling Ring starring Emma Watson and Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra recounting Liberace’s (Michael Douglas) tumultuous relationship with his much younger lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).
However, it is the growing number of Australian films that is truly impressive. Among the home-grown talent is Sebastien Guy (pictured) whose debut feature Nerve, debuts at this year’s festival. A psychological drama, Nerve follows Jakob Evans (Christian Clark) who suffers an emotional breakdown after the death of his unfaithful wife. It’s a dark, emotive mystery that explores one man’s grief and regret.
A perfect opportunity to sample Australia’s other up and coming creatives, and a highlight of the festival in recent years are the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films screenings. Ten finalists show their worth and compete for three illustrious prizes: the Dendy Live Action Short Award, The Yoram Gross Animation Award and the Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director. All finalists screen together in two sessions with guest filmmakers in attendance and prizes are awarded at the close of the festival.
Here is a rundown of ‘six of the best’ Australian films to see at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
All God’s Creatures
A finalist of the Dendy Awards, this short focuses on the dynamics of two very different brothers after their father leaves. Asher likes fishing, swearing and other boyish pursuits, while Charlie loves all God’s creatures and prefers having tea parties and being creative. One moment will change their relationship forever.
Jun 15 & 16, Event Cinemas George St
Actor/writer/director Sebastien Guy’s directorial debut feature is a dark look at the lengths a man will go to when grief and obsession take hold. Starring Christian Clark (Home and Away) and Georgina Haig (Underbelly), this mystery is one to watch.
Jun 12 & 16, Event Cinemas George St
With a stellar cast including Festival judge Hugo Weaving and Aaron Pederson this film was astonishingly written, directed, shot, edited and scored by Ivan Sen. Mystery Road is a subtle examination of the social and political context of a small town in the Australian outback.
Jun 5, State Theatre
The Unlikely Pilgrims
This revelatory documentary nine years in the making follows recovering addicts Amy, Chris and Dave as they hike the Camino de Santiago. Ronan O’Connor, a NSW drug and alcohol counsellor has agreed to be their guide but not their therapist. The trek will be a challenge but it is one they must face to move forward.
Jun 10, Event Cinemas George St
Aussies Clark Carter and Chris Bray decide to cross a remote island in the Arctic – just for the hell of it. Edited from over 100 hours of footage, this film shows the determination of these two as they come up against some of the world’s harshest terrain with nothing but their wits and their homemade kayaks.
Jun 6, Event Cinemas George St
Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls
This is the story of Burma’s first girl band as depicted by Director Juliet Lamont, a 2010 Sydney Film Festival winner. The five young girls led by Australian mentor Miss Nikki face the challenges of a music career with hard-headed music entrepreneurs, a bad case of stage fright and the political changes sweeping their country.
Jun 13, Event Cinemas George St
For a full list of film screenings, venues and ticket purchases, visit www.sff.org.au.