May 6, 2019
Ask Hugo Weaving about how hard it is for Australian films at a time when Avengers: Endgame is swamping cinemas, and the veteran actor points to a little-seen revenge drama that is director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to the acclaimed The Babadook.
Legendary Star Wars actor Peter Mayhew passes away, the Archibald prize shows off its nominees and the ABC confirms the departure of Virginia Trioli from News Breakfast.
“The Nightingale was at Venice last year and it made a big splash,” said the Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy star at the launch of the Sydney Film Festival program. “In the same year that Roma was winning awards there, The Nightingale was winning awards too – but we haven’t seen it yet in this country.”
While impressing at Cannes or Venice was once an excellent way of launching an Australian film, Weaving said it was no longer enough, which made the Sydney Film Festival – running from June 5 to 16 and in its 66th year – even more important.
Also in competition is Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch, a black comedy drama with Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman as 17th century puppeteers.
The festival will open with Rachel Ward’s comedy Palm Beach, starring Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Richard E. Grant and Greta Scacchi as long-time friends at an exuberant birthday party on Sydney’s northern beaches.
Ward said it was exciting to be opening the festival in what she considered a bumper year for new Australian films. And she enjoyed casting Greta Scacchi, who she considered her “nemesis” when they were competing for acting roles.
“I wanted to kill her,” Ward said. “She was always taking all the best roles then I get to give her a great role. How wonderful is that?”
Also screening is Kriv Stenders’ Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, about the heroics of outnumbered Australian troops during the Vietnam War.
Producer Martin Walsh, who has finally made the film after 16 years of trying, described it as a coming-of-age battle for the Australian military.
“We didn’t want to get into the politics of the war itself [so] it was really about creating new Anzac myths and legends and, importantly, immortalising a whole generation of Vietnam veterans,” he said.
A strikingly wide range of Australian features includes Standing Up For Sunny, a romantic comedy starring RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad; Suburban Wildlife, about four young friends dealing life after uni; Slam, about a young Muslim activist and slam poet who goes missing in Sydney; Animals, a comedy about two boozy female friends in Dublin; and sci-fi pic I Am Mother with Hilary Swank.
Moodley has programmed some out-and-out crowd-pleasers including the comedies Blinded by The Light, about a British-Pakistani teenager whose life changes when he discovers Bruce Springsteen’s music, and Brittany Runs a Marathon, about a New York party girl who takes up running.
But there are also films that will only ever be found at a festival, including a romantic comedy set in the Mongolian wilds (Öndög), another one in war-torn South Sudan (Akasha) and a one-take thriller about a Bangladeshi terrorist attack (Saturday Afternoon).
Stars turn up in unexpected places, including Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny as small-town cops battling zombies played by Danny Glover, Selena Gomez and Iggy Pop in Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die.
And as well as Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche and André 3000 in Claire Denis’ sexually-charged sci-fi thriller High Life, Colin Firth stars in the Russian submarine drama Kursk.
The competition includes three films from leading international directors – German Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away, Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory and South Korean Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite.
“Exploring issues such as gender, the intersection of the political and the personal, the power of art to change lives and income inequality, these films together make a strong argument for empathy and solidarity,” Moodley said.