The 63rd Sydney Film Festival is full of home-grown heroes and helmers who want to change the world.
The theme of the 63rd installment of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) is “Change your view, change your world,” and a far-reaching program of 244 films from 60 countries, a virtual reality showcase, and strong themes like capital punishment and the plight of refugees see it fulfill its remit.
“There are several films thought the program that allow for a different perspective, and in which we see filmmakers really engaging with the world around them and, in many cases, making an argument for change,” says SFF director Nashen Moodley.
A strong competition line-up includes Boo Junfeng’s “Apprentice” from Singapore, Brazilian helmer Kleber Mendonca Filho’s “Aquarius” and U.S. filmmaker Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” toplining Viggo Mortensen and Aussie thesp Nicholas Hamilton. All three films come straight from a berth at Cannes.
Sydney will also see a local boy by way of the Croisette when Mel Gibson attends the fest with “Blood Father” from French director Jean-Francois Richet.
“It’s a really good film, a great thriller and it’s a fantastic performance by Mel Gibson,” Moodley says.
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The director adds that both the program and attendances have been growing with last year’s audience reaching 176,000. “There’s been a geographical expansion too, and we’ve now started screening in Cremorne [in northern Sydney], so it’s been a busy time,” he says.
Launching the fest June 8 is “Goldstone” by local indigenous helmer Ivan Sen, the second time Sen has had the top slot. Sen opened the Sydney festival in 2012 with “Mystery Road,” which starred Aaron Pedersen as detective Jay Swan. “Goldstone” centers around the same character though Sen avoids the term “sequel.”
“It’s a film in its own right,” Sen says. “A spinoff more than a sequel, [and] whatever issues went unresolved in ‘Mystery Road,’ [‘Goldstone’] doesn’t go out of its way to resolve them.”
Sen acknowledges that it is unusual for a helmer to open the festival twice in such short succession and says he is very passionate about the character of Jay Swan as he has a lot in common with him.
“He’s this indigenous character that is walking between both the white world and indigenous world and trying to uphold laws from both societies,” Sen says.
“Goldstone” also stars Jacki Weaver and David Wenham and is distribbed by Transmission Films.
Moodley calls “Goldstone” a “complex and very satisfying film one that works as a thriller and looks at some pressing issue in Australian society.”
This new program will screen nine virtual reality features, four local and five international, and hold a special VR panel. Matt Ravier, VR programmer, says while he encountered the technology a few years ago at SXSW it was only now he felt it was ready to take the festival stage.
“The technology has matured and caught up with the ambitions of filmmakers wanting to work in that medium,” Ravier says.
The Down the Rabbit Hole program will feature documentaries like “A History of Cuban Dance,” from Lucy Walker; animated short “The Rose and I” by artists Eugene Chung, Jimmy Maidens and Alex Woo; plus music vid “fabulous wonder.land,” which takes its cues from Damon Albarn and the Lewis Carroll classic book.
“What excites me is that [VR] disrupts the traditional methods of storytelling and it creates a new filmmaking grammar and that opens up a whole range of possibilities for artists,” Ravier says.
Another immersive film experience is the annual Gourmet Cinema program. Sydney is a foodie town and pairing food and cinema is bound to please. For the past four years, the festival has shown a film about food and then asked a top Sydney chef to make a menu inspired by the pic. Auds then watch the film over the dinner.
This year’s film is “Ants on a Shrimp: Noma in Tokyo,” a docu by Maurice Dekkers about Noma chef Rene Redzepi shuttering his Copenhagen restaurant and heading to Japan. Pic will be interpreted in food by Ross Lusted, head chef of the Bridge Room, which last year was named Restaurant of the Year by Aussie guide the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide.
In European Cinema: 10 Women Filmmakers to Watch, the festival aims to spotlight the work of top European women behind the lens. According to a study last year by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women directed only 7% of the 250 top-grossing films in 2014 and — together with Variety and European Film Promotion — this sidebar aims to shine a light on some emerging talents.
“With the selection of the films we worked very closely with Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge and I think we have come up with 10 really amazing films and we expect at least five of the directors to attend the festival and interact not only with audiences but with the local film industry,” Moodley says.
WHAT: 63rd Sydney Film Festival
WHEN: June 8-19