Not so long ago Bend It Like Beckham was the stand-out hit at the Sydney Film Festival. Now a film featuring another soccer star, Eric Cantona, will open the venerable event.
What might have to be renamed the Sydney Football Festival will showcase English director Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, about a postman who takes advice from the French player who is famous for such quotes as "When the seagulls follow a trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea". It is one of 12 films competing for a $60,000 prize in the festival’s second international competition for new directions in cinema next month.
As reported last month, the 56th festival will be a "scaled-down and sharpened up" version over 12 days, losing a week and a venue as organisers minimise costs at a difficult time for sponsorship and ticket sales.
Rather than upsetting festival diehards the director, Clare Stewart, says the move has been well received. "That decision was very much a strategic one around wanting to intensify the festival experience and not exhaust our audience, as well as being a response to the current economic climate," she says. "And there’s been a collective sigh of relief, to be honest. We’ve had very positive feedback from a range of different stakeholders."
There is also likely to be a positive response to the 80-feature program that was launched yesterday.
The competition is more varied and topical this year, with Looking For Eric, Altiplano and Face coming straight from world premieres at Cannes. There is also a 3D animation, Coraline, and a subversive French comedy, Louise-Michel, on the European trend of workers taking revenge on their bosses after retrenchment.
Last year The Square and Three Blind Mice were the two Australian films in competition. This year there are three – Steve Jacobs’s Disgrace, an adaptation of a J.M. Coetzee novel that has already won a prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, actress-turned-director Rachel Ward’s evocative rural drama Beautiful Kate, which stars Ben Mendelsohn, Bryan Brown and Rachel Griffiths, and Khoa Do’s Vietnamese refugee memoir Missing Water, his follow-up to The Finished People and Footy Legends.
There will be extra emphasis on Australian documentaries, a traditional strength at the festival, with a new competition for a $10,000 prize. The field covers topics as diverse as the first Aboriginal contact with whites (Contact), the turbulent life of a charismatic Indian policewoman (Yes Madam, Sir) and a portrait of a photojournalist (David Bradbury’s My Asian Heart).
At a time when audiences are demanding special experiences in cinemas, the festival has created "pathways" through the program to cover films with a similar feel, emotion or theme. Those seeking intense experiences can follow the Push Me To The Edge recommendations. There are also options for those wanting love and romance (Give Me A Kiss), comedies (Make Me Laugh), travels of various types (Take Me On A Journey), adrenaline-charged films (Fire Me Up) and nerve-janglers (Freak Me Out).
Traditional festival-goers will be more interested in the many films from notable directors.
Steven Soderbergh has three new features: the call-girl drama The Girlfriend Experience in competition plus the two-part Che Guevera story, Che. There are also new films from Jim Jarmusch (The Limits Of Control), Claire Denis (35 Shots Of Rum), Catherine Breillat (Bluebeard), Agnes Varda (The Beaches Of Agnes), Lone Scherfig (the Nick Hornby-penned An Education), Stephen Frears (the French costume drama Cheri), John Woo (the Chinese epic Red Cliff), Jerzy Skolimowski (Four Nights With Anna) and Abbas Kiarostami (Shirin, with Juliette Binoche).
The festival has missed Robert Connolly’s keenly awaited Balibo, which is headed for its Melbourne counterpart, but there is still a strong line-up of Australian features. After the controversy surrounding The Combination, there will be interest in another Lebanese-Australian drama set in Sydney, Cedar Boys, starring Les Chantery and Rachael Taylor. There are first features from the talented short-film makers Glendyn Ivin (Last Ride, with Hugo Weaving) and Andrew Lancaster (Accidents Happen, with Geena Davis), the animated $9.99 and new films from David Caesar (the truckie romance Prime Mover) and Rowan Woods (the American drama Winged Creatures).
And, at last, there is a chance to see a restored version of the 1971 outback classic Wake In Fright.
More coverage in today’s Metro liftout.
* Looking For Eric, directed by Ken Loach
A postal worker seeks advice from the philosophical French soccer star Eric Cantona.
* The Maid, Sebastian Silva
A hardworking maid has to deal with newcomers to her Chilean household.
* Disgrace, Steve Jacobs*
John Malkovich plays a lecherous professor in an adaptation of J.M. Coetzee’s prize-winning novel.
* Altiplano, Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth
A mercury spill upsets villagers in the Peruvian Andes.
* Bronson, Nicholas Winding Refn
* The life of Britain’s most notorious criminal, who calls himself Charles Bronson (pictured above).
* Louise-Michel, Benoit Delepine, Gustave de Kervern
Subversive French comedy about a group of sacked factory workers who hire a hitman to kill their boss.
* Coraline, Henry Selick
A 3D stop-motion animation about a fearless girl who enters a parallel world (pictured above).
* Paper Soldier, Alexey German jnr
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin prepares for take-off at the start of the space race.
* Missing Water, Khoa Do*
A sweatshop worker recalls fleeing Vietnam for Australia in a ramshackle boat.
* Face, Tsai Ming-Liang
A Taiwanese filmmaker sets out to make a film about Salome in Paris.
* The Girlfriend Experience, Steven Soderbergh
The world of a high-class American escort as she tries to build a business.
* Australian film
* Beautiful Kate, Rachel Ward * A man confronts the past when he returns to his former bush home. Stars Sophie Loewe (above).