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Ewan Jackman talks about the best films to watch at this year’s Sydney Film Festival
After a delayed and unconventionally virtual film festival last November, the Sydney Film Festival has prepared a complete return to normality in just 6 months. As Deanne Weir, the festival chair, pointed out how “storytellers kept us entertained and sane” during the numerous lockdowns of previous years, it is time to finally welcome film back to life in front of audiences.
This year there are over 200 films in the festival from all over the world, including 9 NSW premieres, screening in 12 venues across Sydney between the 9th and 19th of June. A list of venues is provided at the bottom.
With so many films on offer over only 12 days it can be hard to know which films to get tickets to. Hopefully the list below with offer a wide range of films and genres to help you decide.
1. We Are Still Here (2022) (Dir. Beck Cole, Danielle MacLean, Dena Curtis, Tim Worrall, Richard Curtis, Miki Magasiva, Mario Gaoa, Chantelle Burgoyne, Tracey Rigney, Renae Maihi)
This thrilling new First Nations film follows 8 different stories over 1000 years focusing on the lives of Indigenous people of both Australia and New Zealand. Beginning with an animation of ancient times, this mass collaboration with 10 directors navigates through the many hardships and struggles of Indigenous people around colonialism, racism and attempted erasure. Blending animation, sci-fi, period drama and romantic comedy genres in both historical and more contemporary settings, We Are Still Here premieres on the opening night of the festival and is a must-watch, thought provoking film.
2. Phantom of the Open (2021) (Dir. Craig Roberts)
Following the true story of Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance), the worst golfer to ever play the British Open, in a film where energy of Eddy the Eagle meets the setting of Happy Gilmore. Maurice transforms from an unlikely hero as a crane operator and unfaltering optimist to a British folk hero, recording the worst ever round of golf in Open history after gaining entry to the 1976 British Open. This is an uplifting, heart-warming story about an ordinary person chasing after their dreams regardless of how outlandish or unrealistic they may be.
3. The Forgiven (2021) (Dir. John McDonagh)
This black comedy stars Oscar winning Jessica Chastain (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) and twice nominated Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, The English Patient) in a “study of clashing cultures”. Following a couple on a one way street to separation, David (Fiennes) and Jo (Chastain) agree to attend a lavish party in Morocco. On the way to the celebration hosted by a gay couple, Richard (Matt Smith) and Dally (Caleb Landry Jones), David runs over a boy, puts the body in his car and continues driving on. When the boy’s father arrives the next day, demanding David to attend his son’s funeral, events begin to spiral out of control.
4. Nude Tuesday (2022) (Dir. Armagan Ballantyne)
This New Zealand comedy follows a couple, Bruno (Damon Herriman) and Laura (Jackie van Beek), struggling to save their marriage when they decide to take part in a “new-age retreat”. This unique kiwi comedy used ground-breaking methods during all stages of production. All actors were given simple pointers and ideas in each scene before speaking entirely in improvised gibberish. Post-filming Julia Davis, a British comedian, wrote subtitles to accompany the actors’ incoherent gibberish creating a magical blend of comedy between the on-screen physicality and hilarious subtitles. Jemaine Clement stars as one of the retreat’s gibberish enthusiast, charming and smooth sex guru, Bjorg. You certainly don’t want to miss the world premiere of this ground-breaking comedy.
5. Navalny (2022) (Dir. Daniel Roher)
One of the most revealing and pertinent documentaries of the year focuses on the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, who stands as Vladimir Putin’s political rival. After having to make an emergency landing on a flight to Moscow and being evacuated to a hospital in Berlin, it was revealed he was poisoned with a nerve agent, Novichok. This particular poison has been used in other attacks on political rivals of the Russian government. As Navalny recovers in Germany, he seeks to uncover the truth behind his attempted assassination and in the process reveals the underbelly of Russian politics. This unique documentary, winner of the 2022 Sundance Audience Aware, is relevant now more than ever with the ongoing conflicts between Urkaine and Russia.
6. Oldboy (2003) (Dir. Park Chan-wook)
This 4K restoration of a nearly 20-year-old cult classic that put the South-Korean film industry on the world stage arrives at the Sydney Film Festival this year. After being imprisoned in a room for 15 years without any knowledge of his captor or his supposed offence, Oh Dae-su is let free and begins to unravel the mystery of his incarceration. What was once a married businessman, your everyday family man, is now a tormented individual eager for answers in a quest of vengeance. The protagonist’s violent hunt for his captor is beautifully balanced with his romantic interest in a young chef, Mi-do. Whether you want to revisit this 2000s masterpiece or keen to experience more brilliant films from South-Korea after the rising success of director Bong Joon-ho (Parasite, Snowpiercer), this psychological thriller will take you on a dark and suspenseful journey.
7. Fashion Babylon (2022) (Dir. Gianluca Matarrese)
If you’re a fashionista or interested in learning more about the fashion industry, then this new documentary is perfect for you. The documentary reveals the inner workings of the fashion world, following the lives of three fashion insiders, Violet Chachki, Michelle Elie, and Casey Spooner, as they navigate their way through the highly competitive world of fashion. Violet, drag artist and winner of Season 7 of Rupaul’s Drag Race, finds herself always in a rush, having to squeeze into outfits in the back of taxis. Michelle, an OTT fashionista, uses the streets as her catwalk as a former model. Casey, a musician and artist, struggles to pay rent after spending every last cent on clothes. This entertaining and vibrant documentary invites its audience to enjoy in the glamour and dazzle as well as share the stress and anxiety that exist simultaneously in the world of fashion.
8. I Didn’t See You There (2022) (Dir. Reid Davenport)
Davenport’s Sundance Award-winning feature length debut comes to the Sydney Film Festival under a new festival initiative, Screenability, which focuses on bringing the voices and perspectives of filmmakers with disabilities to life on the big screen. Whilst there are several films on offer under the Screenability program, this self-reflective personal exploration filmed entirely from the perspective of Devonport stands out, illustrating Devonport’s own struggles of (in)visibility as a wheelchair-user. What began as an inquisitory inspection of a circus tent that appeared in Oakland, California, morphed into an examination of a time during the early stages of the circus industry where people with disabilities were displayed as spectacles and used for entertaining the masses of ableism people. Devonport connects this old-fashioned historical approach with our own contemporary approach to disability in the modern world.
9. Hinterland (2021) (Dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky)
This psychological thriller set in post-WW1 Vienna follows a tormented veteran, Peter Perg, who returns from a POW camp a changed man. Once a renowned detective and criminologist before the outbreak of war, Peter returns to his old craft after several of his comrades are murdered in uniquely inhumane ways. This German film, with English subtitles, evokes memories of Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Seven (1995) and brilliantly reflects the film’s distorted psychological maze with its magnificent cinematography influenced by German Expressionist films of the early 20th Century. Join Peter in hunting down a mysterious killer through the winding streets and twisted buildings.
10. The Plains (2022) (Dir. David Easteal)
Another Australian film comes to the Sydney Film Festival from filmmaker Easteal’s debut feature-length. This film serves as an intimate personal study of a middle-aged man, Andrew Rakowski, over the course of a year filmed almost exclusively from the back seat of his car on his regular route home from work. What appears as a simple plot and story unfolds into an extremely layered and textured narrative that takes the audience through all the highs and lows of Andrew’s life. With Andrew driving either alone or accompanied by Easteal himself, this film captures naturalistic human interactions inside a car with long pauses dissecting the emotionally rich unveiling of a person’s life. The only drawback would be the length of the film, sitting at around 3 hours running time.