After the triumph of the 2019 Sydney Film Festival – with its biggest-ever box office takings and major gets such as Parasite, not to mention that film’s director as an in-person guest – Nashen Moodley is philosophical about the smaller, modest, online festival he’s presenting this year.
“I’m really glad of what we’ve got because when we cancelled it wasn’t certain whether we could do anything at all,” the Sydney Film Festival’s director tells Time In. “The other silver lining is that for the first time in decades, someone can actually watch every single film in the Sydney Film Festival, because it’s otherwise physically impossible.”
Ten new feature-length Australian documentaries (including eight World Premieres) will screen as finalists for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Best Australian Documentary, with the winning film announced and presented with a $10,000 cash prize at the SFF Virtual Awards Ceremony on Thursday June 18.
Ten finalists for the Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films will also screen in the festival. Returning to the festival with three short films is Screenability, a platform for screen practitioners with disability, in partnership with Screen NSW.
Finally, the festival has secured a ten-strong line-up of new feature films in the return of the Europe! Voices of Women in Film strand.
The focus of the stripped-back SFF2020 is retaining the awards program that has played such an important role in the local industry, Moodley says. “Being selected for the Dendy Awards and Documentary Australia Awards is an important moment for those films so we wanted to maintain that, and happily the sponsors all agreed to put up the cash for the prize money even though we weren’t able to have it in cinemas.”
Augmenting the Sydney Film Festival: Virtual Edition will be two additional events. For We Are One: A Global Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival has joined 20 major film festivals from around the world, led by Tribeca and including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto, Sundance and San Sebastian, together with YouTube, to present a free ten-day digital festival beginning on May 29.
They have also partnered with SBS, which will stream Moodley’s specially curated Sydney Film Festival Collection of 40 features and documentaries that have screened at SFF in the past.
You can read about the entire SFF2020 program here. Tickets for the festival are on sale now.
Nashen, do you recall the moment when you realised the festival would not go ahead in cinemas?
It was very strange because I was at the Berlin Film Festival just a few weeks before, at the end of February. The markets were full, people were hugging as usual and it just seemed that everything would go on. And within days the number of infections in Germany increased drastically. By the time we had to cancel on the 21st of March we had about 50 percent of the program locked in. Once the government said that gatherings of 500 would no longer be allowed it made the festival impossible. It was quite a traumatic moment.
Are you hoping to present the films that you had locked in at next year’s event?
I think so. Film production has halted everywhere around the world, and many of the films we invited to this year’s festival will not go online anytime soon, they want to go the theatrical route.
What was the first step in your pivot to virtual?
We got in touch with a fantastic NZ company called Shift72 who are providing a digital platform for many festivals now, and once we spoke to them we knew that we could have a reliable partner who would ensure the [online] security of the films. And that’s when we could go to filmmakers and producers and say, “This is our offering.”
You became an Australian citizen in 2017, but how are things looking in your native South Africa with the pandemic?
Initially when I looked at the numbers it was very much on par with Australia but now the daily numbers are looking pretty disturbing. And economically, South Africa has big economic problems, so there is pressure to reopen the economy. The government reacted quickly, but when you have the level of economic disparity in South Africa it is a very dangerous situation.
It must be hard not to be able to go there – or anywhere, given the amount of travel involved in your job.
It’s the first time in ten years or more when I don’t have a trip booked to go somewhere! It’s very, very strange to me. But I’m very happy to be here rather than anywhere else in the world. I think Australia has dealt with this very well.
How is morale in the festival?
We all do lots of Zoom meetings now. I’m quite amazed how everyone has adapted so quickly to this new bubble of working from home, but I wouldn’t say it’s ideal. I long for the return of face-to-face meetings. I long to be back in a cinema.