Saturday, September 23, 2023

A Recap Of The 70th Sydney Film Festival

G’day everyone! The 70th Sydney Film Festival has just finished up here Down Under, and it is worthy of a recap to remember the highlights. The festival celebrated its seventieth anniversary and is older than many other major film festivals. Toronto is only 47; Telluride turns 50 this year, and New York turned 60 last year. The festival started in 1954 and has become a staple of Sydney’s cultural calendar, yet it features little on the international landscape. However, every year the festival seems to get bigger and bigger, and this year’s tagline was “See It All.” Over 200+ films were screened for this year’s festival from the 7th to the 18th of June. I managed to see 16 films, one a day plus two on the King’s Birthday public holiday and an extra two on the festival’s closing day. 

The festival utilizes venues in the heart of the city of Sydney and other inner suburbs, with the State Theatre, a heritage-listed grand beauty, as its main venue. It was here that the festival began and came to a close. The festival opened with the Australian Cannes premiering outback drama, “The New Boy” directed by Warwick Thornton and starring Cate Blanchett, and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” closed out the festival, complete with complimentary fedoras for all in attendance. “The New Boy” was one of twelve films in the official competition. The others included: “Bad Behaviour,” “Cobweb,” “Afire,” “Art College 1994,” “The Dark Emu Story,” “Fallen Leaves,” “Joram,” “Monster,” “Past Lives,” “Scrapper,” and “The Mother of All Lies.”

The festival is positioned just after Cannes but before the major fall festivals. It serves as one of the few places to see many Cannes premiere films before they head to cinemas or other festivals. This year was no different, with multiple Cannes film screenings, including the Palme d’Or winning “Anatomy of a Fall,” the Jury Prize-winning “Fallen Leaves,” the Best Actor winning “Perfect Days,” Best Screenplay winner “Monster” and L’Œil d’Or winners “Four Daughters” and “The Mother of All Lies.” Other films direct from Cannes included Todd Haynes’ “May December,” Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City,” Jessica Hausner’s “Club Zero,” Anurag Kashyap’s “Kennedy,” Pedro Almodóvar’s “Strange Way of Life” and Kim Jee-woon’s “Cobweb” with the director present at the festival to introduce the film and run a Q&A after its second screening. Pixar’s “Elemental” also had its Australian premiere. 

The festival is also one of the few ways smaller independent US films can find an Australian audience. One of the banes of Aussie film fans’ existence is the lack of distribution in Australia for independent films. Still, local distributor Madman Films does what it can to acquire, and this festival featured many films with their logo attached. Madman was one of the unsung winners of this year’s festival. Celine Song’s “Past Lives” had its Australian premiere and left barely a dry eye in the theatre, and the Tongan comedy “Red, White, and Brass” brought the house down with laughter. Other films already released in the US screened as part of the festival included “Carmen,” “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” “Reality” and “Chevalier.”

The festival also contained a program strand honoring director Jane Campion, with all of her films and shorts screening across the 12 days of the fest. Campion’s last film, “The Power of the Dog,” screened at the festival in 2021, as did “Bright Star” in 2009.

Finally, since 2008, the Sydney Film Festival has awarded $60,000AUD to the jury-decided Sydney Film Prize. The Festival Jury was comprised of acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap (India), actor Mia Wasikowska (Australia), film curator and journalist Dorothee Wenner (Germany), writer and director Larissa Behrendt (Australia), and filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaran (Australia/Sri Lanka). Previous winners include: “Close” (2022); “There Is No Evil” (2021); “Parasite” (2019); “The Heiresses” (2018); “On Body and Soul” (2017); “Aquarius” (2016); “Arabian Nights” (2015); “Two Days, One Night” (2014); “Only God Forgives” (2013); “Alps” (2012); “A Separation” (2011); “Heartbeats” (2010); “Bronson” (2009); and “Hunger” (2008).

Other awards given out include the Documentary Australia Award for an Australian documentary and the five Dendy Live Action Short Awards, including the Yoram Gross Animation Award, among others. There are also four audience awards for Best Fiction Feature (International), Best Fiction Feature (Australian), Best Documentary (International), and Best Documentary (Australian).

This year’s winners were:

  • Sydney Film Prize: $60,000: The Mother of All Lies
  • Documentary Australia Award for Australian documentary: $20,000 cash prize: Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black)
  • Sustainable Future Award: $40,000 cash prize: Against the Tide
  • Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films:
    • Dendy Live Action Short Award: $7,000 cash prize: The Dancing Girl and the Balloon Man
    • Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director: $7,000 cash prize: Sophie Somerville, director of Linda 4 Eva
    • Yoram Gross Animation Award: A$5,000 cash prize: Teacups
    • AFTRS Craft Award: A$7,000 cash prize: Kalu Oji, Faro Musodza, and Makwaya Masudi, screenwriters for What’s In a Name?
    • Event Cinemas Rising Talent Award: A $7,000: Robyn Liu, lead actor in The Dancing Girl and the Balloon Man
  • Audience awards 
    • Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature (International): Anatomy of a Fall
    • Audience Award for Best Fiction Feature (Australian): Birdeater
    • Audience Award for Best Documentary (International): Beyond Utopia
    • Audience Award for Best Documentary (Australian): The Defenders

Overall, it was a fantastic time spent with fellow moviegoers, film fans, and cinephiles. Hearing the buzz after every film as people chattered and shared their thoughts was always exciting. After numbers were impacted by COVID these last few years, the festival has now had its biggest attendance and program year on record. And what better year than the festival’s 70th? If you are ever in Sydney, Australia, in June, be sure to keep your eyes peeled or plan ahead to make the Sydney Film Festival part of your stay. 

Have you ever been to the Sydney Film Festival before? If so, what do you think? Are there any films mentioned you’re looking forward to seeing? Please let us know in the comments section below or over on our Twitter account. Thank you!

You can follow Michael and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @WalshyMovies

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