Guide to the Sydney Film Festival

GUEST ARTICLE: For Sydney cinephiles, the month of June is our autumn harvest, when all the fruits of our hard labour are reaped in a glorious, orgiastic mess: The Sydney Film Festival.

Held from June 4th to 22nd, the Sydney Film Festival is one of the ten oldest film festivals in the world, started in 1954 at the University of Sydney (ok – Melbourne got theirs together in 1951, but we’ll forget that).

It’s the cinematic equivalent of Christmas in Sydney, with incredible gala events and special screenings flittering through the air, held aloft on gossamer threads of whimsy. It’s a festival to be seen at, especially with the star performers making special appearances, their faces hardened by makeup into a convincing smile, but, for the rest of us, it’s a chance for our island nation to get exposed to foreign and underground cinema – movies that would never have a chance of playing in the mainstream cinemas.

2008 Sydney Film Festival – Highlights

Encounters at the End of the World – Documentary maker Werner Herzog explores Antarctica and the people who work there at scientific bases.

Green Porno – the anticipation of this screening has been whipped up into a frothy fury. Isabella Rossellini, star of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet”, directed a series of eight short films… where she dresses up like an insect and has sex with a stuffed insect animal. And she usually takes the male role, whatever that may be. It’d be worth seeing just for the audience reactions.

My Winnipeg – Guy Maddin’s dreamlike fantasy of leaving his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada, is bound to be a knockout… it’s competing in the Official Competition and the director will be here himself to narrate live at the Australian screening.

Silent Light – the latest movie from Carlos Reygadas was nearly universally loved by esteemed critics. A few dissenting voices cried pretentious, but this film, depicting the life of Mexican Mennonites, in the language of the Mennonites, will be one of the most loved screenings of the festival, I’m predicting. Australians will surely resonate with the scenery in the movie, the Chihuahua province of Mexico is a dry, arid place, similar to the Outback.

Tokyo Sonata – Bizarre family antics feature prominently in this celebrated Japanese film from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, scripted in part by Australian Max Mannix. The story revolves around a family where each member lives a lie, from the father who loses his job, to the son that secretly takes piano lessons. The Japanese idea of family may seem bizarre to Westerners, but it makes for excellent comedic cinema.

Useless – the latest movie by Jia Zhangke, the Chinese director celebrated as the admiral of the Sixth Generation of directors, leaps from his usual slow moving settings into the frenzied activity of industrialization. In Useless, a documentary, Jia’s view of China should be acerbic and cutting; it’ll be interesting to see what conclusions he leads the audience to. Winner of best documentary at the Venice Film Festival.

Come Drink With Me – This 1966 kung fu movie was directed by King Hu and looks to be a rare chance to see a real Hong Kong gem! Hu was criticized for idolizing a female warrior, but the success of this movie led to modern wuxia movies embracing the female soldier.

Donkey Punch – “Donkey Punch” looks to be wildly untamed and outrageous; three English girls head out on a boat with four English guys for some drunken fun, but things get twisted out of turn, leading to some very ‘riveting’ horror. Looking forward to this one!

Tips for Filmgoers

The Sydney Film Festival goes for several weeks, with so many great movies playing, that you’ll kick yourself for missing them. Of course, you can’t get down on yourself for this – hopefully, the movies that do very well will see a theatrical release in Australia, giving you a second chance.

What you must do, is see the movies that’ll bubble under the surface, never gaining enough traction to break the ice. See something weird, something bizarre. Something that’ll challenge your perceptions and force you to listen to another language. More than anything, the film festival is a very simple way to leave Australia without actually leaving Australia.

This Guide to the Sydney Film Festival has been written by Cibbuano ( a fellow Sydneysider and keen movie goer.

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One Reply to “Guide to the Sydney Film Festival”

  1. I’ve been to the Telluride Film festival, Sundance, and Toronto. I’m looking to cross another one off the list. Can someone who went to this tell me how great it is, so I can book my plane ticket.

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