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12 reasons to be excited about Sydney Film Festival 2019

Nick Dent
Written by
Nick Dent

Sydney Film Festival returns on June 5 – a veritable orgy of fascinating, thrilling and entertaining movies over 12 days – and the full line-up has just been announced.

We’ve crunched the program and can present to you the top 12 reasons to be incredibly excited about the festival this year. Here they are... 

1. Women directors are in the driver’s seat

If it seems like there are more movies this year directed by women then it’s no accident. The festival has signed the 5050x2020 pledge, meaning they’re committed to 50-50 gender parity by 2020 – and already in 2019, 43 per cent of the festival's 307 films are directed by women. The opening night film is Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach, and Ward is co-presenting the annual Ian Macpherson Lecture. There are new movies by top directors Jennifer Kent, Claire Denis and Gurinder Chandra. There is a comprehensive retrospective of the career of the late French director Agnès Varda, and David Stratton is presenting ten great Australian movies by women directors. In every genre, from horror to the western to comedy and documentary and drama, women are calling the shots at SFF2019 – and the films are passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours.

2. #MeToo movies abound

Stories of women fighting back are some of the festival’s hottest tickets. There’s The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s searing revenge flick set in convict-era Tasmania. Tilda Swinton stars alongside her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, in The Souvenir, a widely acclaimed coming-of-age story from director Joanna Hogg. Judy & Punch, the debut feature for Mirrah Foulkes, reimagines the traditional puppet show notorious for its domestic violence. A downtrodden woman stands up for her rights in Macedonian drama God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya. Divine Love is a Brazilian spin on The Handmaid's Tale, warning of the oppressive evangelical direction the country in heading. And then there’s Untouchable, a documentary chronicling the fall of Harvey Weinstein that features interviews with women who have accused the disgraced movie mogul of sexual misconduct. And that’s just for starters.

3. Pablo Escobar is coming

Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who played the evil drug lord Pablo Escobar in Netflix series Narcos, will be on hand to present his movie Marighella, about the author who took on Brazil’s police state in the late 1960s (the country’s current authoritarian president Jair Bolsonaro hates it). Moura will also appear in extended conversation at the Festival Hub on June 9.

4. So are Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart

The US comedy A-listers will walk the red carpet for The Secret Life of Pets 2, the animated sequel that is having its Australian premiere in SFF.

5. And RJ Mitte, too

The admired Breaking Bad star and cerebral palsy advocate stars in Australian romcom Standing Up for Sunny, about a man with disability who becomes a stand-up comedian for love. Mitte will be on a panel discussing the importance of authenticity in films depicting disability.

6. They have some cool horror movies... 

Endzeit – Ever After is a German zombie film from director Carolina Hellsgard depicting the journey of two female friends in a world where nature has unleashed a zombie plague. In Fabric concerns a deadly designer dress that kills everyone who wears it. And 1915 German Expressionist silent movie The Golem: How He Came into the World, about a Rabbi who creates a clay golem brought to life with a demonic spirit, will screen with an original live score from electronic music producer Lucrecia Dalt.

Photograph: Supplied

7. ...including The Dead Don’t Die!

A deadpan comedy from veteran indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), The Dead Don’t Die is a philosophical horror flick with a cast of iconic Jarmusch actors such as Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton and Tom Waits. After the screening on Friday June 14 you can party on at the Jim Jarmusch Zombie Jam at the Festival Hub.

8. There are films by big-name male directors too

Spain’s filmmaking doyen, Pedro Almodóvar, has made a thinly disguised autobiographical drama summing up his own life and work, Pain and Glory, starring Antonio Banderas as an ageing filmmaker. Oscar-nominated German epic Never Look Away by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) will bow at SFF ahead of its general release on June 20 – the director will be appearing at the festival in person. Actor and filmmaker Ralph Fiennes directs The White Crow, a biopic about the temperamental ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) and his sensational defection from the USSR. Martin Scorsese’s new doco about Bob Dylan, Rolling Thunder Revue, will screen too, as will Michael Winterbottom’s thriller The Wedding Guest. 

9. Many films tackle racism head-on

In Maya Newel’s documentary In My Blood It Runs, ten-year-old Aboriginal prodigy, Dujuan, is a healer and speaks two Indigenous languages but is failing in the Australian school system. The Final Quarter documents AFL champion and Indigenous leader Adam Goodes’ public call-out of racist abuse. In Skin, erstwhile Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell plays a skinhead whose decision to reform himself requires the painful removal of the racist tattoos that cover his body. And Angelo acerbically tells the story of Angelo Soliman (Makita Samba), a Nigerian slave who rose through the ranks of Austrian society in the 18th century.

In the Realm of the Senses
In the Realm of the Senses
Photograph: Supplied

10. The All-Night Cine-Love in will blow your mind

Sydney Film Festival’s Jenny Neighbour presents four of the most subversive movies ever made over one gobsmacking marathon night: Eraserhead (1977), David Lynch's black and-white freak-out; In the Realm of the Senses (1977), an essay in sex and death from Nagisa Oshima; O Lucky Man! (1973), an insane and scathing deconstruction of capitalism starring Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange); and Female Trouble (1974), a lurid, low-budget movie by the 'Pope of Trash' John Waters.

11. There are more music-themed movies than ever

There’s nothing like a rousing music doco to get you dancing in the aisles, and this year there are feature-length profiles of Michael Hutchence (Mystify), PJ Harvey (A Dog Called Money), David Crosby, the Chills, Miles Davis and Dylan, as well as a stirring Aretha Franklin concert movie (Amazing Grace) plus Elisabeth Moss playing a Courtney Love-esque rocker in raucous drama Her Smell.

12. There’s even more to come

The Cannes Film Festival is in May each year, so the SFF is unable to confirm movies from that marketplace until after the program announcement each year. But rest assured, there will be more big movies from Cannes playing in SFF – including the Closing Night Gala, which is yet to be announced.

Sydney Film Festival runs June 5-16 and you can book tickets now.

I can't wait till then, what's screening in Sydney tonight?

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