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Sydney Film Festival’s full program was just revealed, here’s what you need to know

Nick Dent

Climate change, the world refugee crisis, punk rock, disability, questions over Australian identity and the resurgence in feminism are among the persistent themes in the program of the 64th Sydney Film Festival.

Oh, and there's a film about some sex-cazed nuns in there too.  

The program of 288 films, which will screen in cinemas across town June 7-18, features new work by big name directors including Sofia Coppola, Michael Haneke, Andrzej Wajda, Terrence Malick, Sally Potter, Doug Liman, Michael Winterbottom and Aki Kaurismaki. Many popular actors appear in new movies in the festival, including Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Gosling, Jeremy Renner, Rooney Mara, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Toni Collette.

Opening night’s film is a documentary by Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) titled We Don’t Need a Map, which tackles the symbolism of the Southern Cross and what it means for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Closing night will be celebrated with a new film from South Korea’s Boon Jong-Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer) called Okja. Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano feature in the story of a girl who lives in the woods with a massive creature called Okja.

The stories of refugees are a frequent theme in both documentaries and feature films. Veteran UK actor Vanessa Redgrave was moved to make documentary Sea Sorrow by the drowning death of three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi. Redgrave herself will be visiting Sydney and appearing in conversation.

Sure to raise eyebrows will be a documentary shot on a mobile phone from behind bars on Manus Island. Chauka Please Tell Us the Time is the work of Kurdish Iranian journalist and asylum seeker Behrouz Boochani. Boochani remains in detention but his co-director will be in attendance.

Former Sydney Theatre director Benedict Andrews makes his feature film debut with Una starring Rooney Mara as a woman confronting the older man (festival guest Ben Mendelsohn) who abused and exploited her when she was 12. Australian actor David Wenham also makes his directing debut with Sydney-set romantic drama Ellipsis. Wenham will deliver this year’s Ian MacPherson Memorial Lecture.

Australian director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog) returns with Australia Day, a film set in Brisbane that involves characters of different ethnicities and tackles racism and national identity.

Sydney’s feminist filmmakers of the 1970s and '80s will be celebrated with three sessions of screenings of shorts and features. The 40th anniversary of the explosion of punk rock in 1977 will be marked with a retrospective of films including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, Jubilee, The Filth and the Fury and The Decline of Western Civilisation.

Other music documentaries in the festival portray the Go-Betweens, Whitney Houston and Iggy Pop among others.

Gourmet Cinema returns with the film Barbecue. Two Australian filmmakers based in New York have cooked up a tribute to the culinary practice of barbecue internationally, from Texas to Sweden to NZ to South Africa. Two screenings of Barbecue are followed by barbecue dinner experiences.

As for those nuns – it's The Little Hours, a raunchy US comedy set in medieval Italy and based on the Decameron, with Fred Armisen, Aubrey Plaza, David Franco and Alison Brie. 

Tickets for the Sydney Film Festival are on sale now. Time Out has scanned the full program and selected the top 25 films you cannot miss.

Too much information? Time Out makes it easy with the 25 SFF films you cannot miss.

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