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Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2014
Photograph: Daniel Boud

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is just around the corner
Written by
Emma Joyce

Sydney’s annual festival of controversial ideas and thought-provoking discussions is back for its eighth year, September 3-4. Sydney Opera House will host 24 individual speaker sessions and 12 panel talks over the weekend with this year’s festival covering four major themes: Disappearing Countries, Dealing in Death, Disruptive Behaviour and Dirty Politics.

Headline speakers include author Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Black Lives Matter activist Alicia Garza, artist and journalist Molly Crabapple, philosopher and columnist AC Grayling, UK science correspondent Alok Jha and English stand-up comedian Alexei Sayle (author of Thatcher Stole My Trousers). 

The biggest talking points of the festival will be the US election, the results of the recent Australian election, Millennials vs Baby Boomers, human rights violations from racism to the effects of climate change, the global refugee crisis, religious and political extremism and the horrifying number of Indigenous people dying in an international suicide epidemic.

“We don’t need to talk about business-as-usual, particularly when you live in Sydney and the sun is shining and the coffee is good…” says FODI co-curator and head of talks and ideas at Sydney Opera House, Ann Mossop. She's laughing at our sense of impending doom. “We look at the more dangerous end of the equation, but also the less-dramatic but equally-interesting topics like the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’, which is about discrimination against people from Asia.”

Tickets are available now, however, Sydney Opera House will be live-streaming selected talks on the day, including one from Annabel Crabb and David Marr called ‘The Government We Deserve’. We wonder, how tricky is it to program talks like these before an election?  

“The reason we were really interested in have Annabel Crabb and David Marr was because they are both biographers of the potential prime ministerial candidates at that stage, and we thought that this was an interesting lens to look at that whole issue through, without knowing the outcome. Annabel and David are both long-term analysts of Australian politics so they’ll look at what the last few years of politics have told us about how we vote and why.”

Photograph: Prudence Upton

The festival’s closing event is one FODI is working on with Bell Shakespeare called ‘Mercy: Justice and the Law vs Compassion.’ It’s centred on the famous courtroom scene from The Merchant of Venice. “You’ve got legendary actors like John Bell bringing that to life on stage and people like Germaine Greer talking about what the issues mean to them in the context of the play but also today.”

Joining Bell (The Duke) in the re-enactment will be Brian Lipson as Shylock, Andrea Demetriades as Portia, James Evans as Antonio and Damien Strouthos as Bassanio. Joining Greer in the discussion will be South Sudanese child soldier-turned-Blacktown lawyer Deng Adut, AC Grayling and Michael Kirby.

One of the talks that’s likely to spark debate is one from academic Jennifer Rayner called ‘Generation Less’. She’ll speak about whether or not the old are mistreating the young in terms of work, wealth and wellbeing. 

“She’s written a really clearly argued and data-rich book that says millennial generations are much worse off, financially, than their parents and preceding generations,” says Mossop. “This is a very interesting issue that we’ve been following for a while at the Festival of Dangerous ideas – and it’s something I think is really starting to bite in Australia. People are seeing the results and, interestingly, we haven’t seen it have much impact on the recent election campaign.”

Mossop tells us she’s looking forward to seeing Alicia Garza in discussion with Stan Grant about why Black Lives Matter. “Bringing that global conversation into an Australian context is going to be really interesting”. Plus, Phillippe Legain’s conversation about borders is going to be a big conversation starter, and Lloyd Newson, who’ll be talking about what you can’t say in the arts. “He’s an extraordinary choreographer and a really interesting thinker.”

“One of my favourite ones at this interesting time to be alive in Australia is Lee Vinsel, who’s talking about the Innovation Fetish. He’s done some great work on the things that really make the world go round.”

If you’re poised and ready to buy yourself a multipack, you’d better have a good reading list ready. We’re taking our recommendations direct from the curator herself... 

Molly Crabapple’s autobiography Drawing Blood is a wonderful read. It’s a fascinating memoir, but also a really interesting insight into somebody who’s an extraordinary artist who has been close to some of the really big political issues of the time. George Packer’s book The Unwinding is a wonderful set of stories about contemporary America coming apart so it’s fascinating, depressing, moving... because it’s told via these individual people’s stories. And Anthony Grayling’s book also is wonderful, if you want your dose of philosophy – that is where to get it!”

For more information, see the Festival of Dangerous Ideas website

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