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a man and a woman watch movies with popcorn
Photograph: Supplied

The best film festivals in Sydney

Calling all movie buffs: here are the showcases that need you plus popcorn

By Stephen A Russell

Seeking an unforgettable movie experience in Sydney? From indie hits to anime, queer takes to insightful docos, there's a festival for every type of film buff in town. Check out our guide to the cinematic showcases clamouring for your popcorn-ready dollars. 

RECOMMENDED: Read our review of mesmeric Australian doco My Name is Gulpilil.

The best Sydney film festivals

Two women stare at each other bathed by neon light
Photograph: Supplied/SFF

1. Sydney Film Festival

Film Film festivals Around Sydney, Sydney

Movie lovers rejoice, because the back-in-real-life Sydney Film Festival (SFF) has dropped the first crop of cinematic excellence set to light up screens in their jam-packed 68th program, and it’s a doozy. And we’re in mighty good company. From Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, to The True History of the Kelly Gang via The Babadook, Essie Davis is a legit living legend of the Australian screen. So consider us super-excited to see her team up with Jojo Rabbit star Thomasin McKenzie in The Justice of Bunny King. Davis plays a single mum battling to reclaim her kids in this feature debut from director Gaysorn Thavat, with McKenzie as her rabble-rousing niece. On the Australian documentary front, Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow, is a tribute to the power of First Nations musicians Archie Roach and the late Ruby Hunter, a meeting of great minds. Both members of the Stolen Generation, it celebrates their indomitable strength. You can also follow the meteoric rise of game-changing Australian fashion figures Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson are celebrated in Step into Paradise.

People on a beanbag watch a movie outdoors surrounded by heritage buildings
Photograph: Supplied/Cassandra Hannagan

2. Laneway Cinema

Film Outdoor cinema Around The Rocks, The Rocks

It is getting a bit chilly out, but nothing will come between us and a free flick. Which is why we’re loving the idea of pop-up Laneway Cinema on Atherden Street in the Rocks. What could be snuggling up in a bean bag and blanket in the lush surrounds of old sandstone buildings with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper?*

*OK, they won’t actually be there, but A Star is Born is one of the totally free movies on offer. Seriously, what could be better than that? And you can get amongst soul-warming pizzas from Caminettos and hot toddies by Tea Cosy. (Not free, but come on, FREE MOVIES). The stellar line-up also includes a bunch of musically infused films, like Hairspray with Zac Efron and Queen Latifah, Walk the Line with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix, and Taron Egerton doing his very best Elton John impression in Rocketman. Did we mention that it was free yet? Honestly, why are you waiting? Films screen at 6.30pm every Wednesday night through the end of July, and you don’t even have to book. Look up the full program here and just show up to soak up the cinematic splendour.



A bus packed with people
Photograph: Supplied

3. Iranian Film Festival

Film Film festivals Multiple venues

The tenth anniversary of the Iranian Film Festival unspools at Dendy Newtown for a week from June 10. The country has become a hotbed for excellent cinema, despite the onerous obstructions placed in front of filmmakers. It has fielded masterpieces from the likes of Abbas Kiarostami (Palme d’Or-winner Taste of Cherry) and Asghar Farhadi (Oscar-winner A Separation). This year’s crop opens with proud feminist writer/director Ida Panahandeh’s mind-bending TiTi. It features Elnaz Shakerdoost as a hospital worker with supernatural powers, who performs an arcane ritual to save an esteemed physicist working on black hole theory and a prediction about the end of the world. Oh, and she’s also acting as a surrogate mother for an infertile couple in order to serve humanity. Natch. It premiered at this year’s Tokyo Film Festival to rave reviews, and we are so hooked in.

Best Disney films: The Lion King
Photograph: Supplied

4. Disney Classics Festival

Film Film festivals Dendy Newtown, Newtown

Disney’s bread and butter will always be gorgeous, fairy-tale and mythology-driven animation, whether hand-drawn the old-fashioned way or whipped up with staggering computer graphics. Dendy Newton knows that wishing upon a cartoon star never gets old, and that’s why they’re rolling out the Disney Classics Festival just in time for school holidays. Lighting up the big screen from June 26 until July 11, the glowing line-up includes the vocal magnificence of the sadly departed Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin, a leap down the rabbit hole with the surreal hijinks of now 70-year-old (!!) Alice in Wonderland, and the mighty roar of The Lion King (thankfully not the atrocious wildlife doco gone wrong re-do). As well as showcasing sweet classics from way back – like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – you’ll also be able to catch up with the rather more riotous murder mystery Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Nicole Kidman retrospective
Photograph: Supplied

5. Nicole Kidman Retrospective

Film Film festivals Ritz Cinema Randwick, Randwick

Moulin RougeThe HoursBig Little Lies, Paddington… Nicole Kidman’s career has spanned decades, genres and mediums. There’s a reason she’s one of the best working actors out there. So, to show their appreciation for our Nic, the Ritz Cinema in Randwick is hosting a Nicole Kidman retrospective throughout April, May and June. The line-up of films includes classics like 1983’s BMX Bandits and 1995’s To Die For as well as her Oscar and Golden Globe-winning turn in Moulin Rouge and The Hours. Plus, favourites like Eyes Wide ShutThe Stepford Wives and The Others are also on the line-up. Screenings take place on Wednesday nights, wrapping up with a Sunday morning session for Paddington on June 26.


Still from Batman and Robin
Image: Batman and Robin

6. So Bad it's Good

Film Special screenings Ritz Cinema Randwick, Randwick

You can keep your Oscars, your Golden Globes, your worthy French films. Give us a terrible movie that we can laugh at any day. And that's exactly what Ritz Cinemas is doing, with a monthly screening of notoriously terrible movies on the second Friday of the month. What are these films that are so bad they're good? They include Batman and Robin (featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman and George Clooney's rubber nipples); Troll 2 (which was clearly meant to be called 'Goblin' but was shoehorned into becoming a sequel for a movie it has nothing to do with); Birdemic (the "CGI" – and we use the term loosely – appears to have been done on MS Paint); and Road House (starring Patrick Swayze, and even though it has 37 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, it's clearly a mistake in this list. Patrick. Swayze.).

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