May 6, 2015
A film shot in secret by a banned director, another one filmed entirely on iPhones, and a single-shot film about a pulsating bank robbery in Berlin. While Hollywood continues serving up familiar sequels, remake and reboots, the Sydney Film Festival will show that filmmakers around the world are telling stories in almost staggeringly inventive ways next month.
The program, announced on Wednesday, includes world premieres of four much-anticipated Australian films, all based on successful plays:
But it is the competition – worth $62,000 after an upgrade from NSW arts minister Troy Grant at the launch to suit the 62nd festival – that shows filmmakers from around the world are finding creative ways to tell stories.
“It’s a really good year for cinema,” says festival director Nashen Moodley. “We’re seeing lots of really experienced filmmakers doing very new things but also so many first-time filmmakers really experimenting and making fantastic films.”
In an echo of Locke last year, Iranian director Jafar Panahi has another film set largely in a car, Tehran Taxi. Banned from making films or leaving the country, he continues his resistance against the Iranian authorities by both directing and starring as a cab driver picking up oddball passengers.
Moodley calls it a far more optimistic film than This Is Not A Film and Closed Curtain, which Panahi has made since being arrested for allegedly making propaganda against the Iranian government. “It’s a very funny film as well,” he says.
German director Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is described as “a spectacular one-shot film” that centres on a Spanish woman who meets a German man and gets caught up in a bank robbery in Berlin.
Sure to be a talking point is American director Sean Baker’s comic drama Tangerine, about transgender sex workers on the streets of Los Angeles. When it screened to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, Baker revealed he shot it entirely on iPhone 5s.
“I’ve seen films shot on phones before but never one that looks as good as this one,” says Moodley. “It doesn’t feel to me at all like a gimmick. Shooting on an iPhone enabled them to do something that they wouldn’t be able to do if they were shooting with huge cameras. It really got the actors to perform in a very wonderful and natural way.”
The 62nd festival will expand to 11 venues, adding the Dendy Newtown for an edgy program and Casula Powerhouse for family films, animated shorts and two Australian films. Returning for a second year, the Skyline Drive-In at Blacktown will screen a classic sci-fi double feature of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and Them!.
Director Gillian Armstrong’s documentary Women He’s Undressed, on Oscar-winning costumer designer Orry-Kelly, will screen on a cruise ship at Circular Quay. It is part of the Australian documentary competition that also includes Steve Thomas’s Freedom Stories, on immigrants who arrived as boat people, and Maya Newell’s Gaybay Baby, on children of gay parents.
Another Australian film having a world premiere is Guido Gonzalez and S. Shakthidharan’s Riz, with a cast of newcomers playing teenagers in western Sydney. It is a rare feature film for being based on an art installation.
Moodley is upbeat about the quality of the Australian features at the festival.
“They’re very different films but they show incredible talent,” he says. “What I’m very excited about is we have a number of first films – Brendan Cowell’s first film in Ruben Guthrie, Kim Farrant’s first film in Strangerland, Simon Stone’s first feature with The Daughter. So you’re seeing new filmmakers emerging and making really very powerful works.”
Guests include the Oscar-winning American documentary director Alex Gibney (We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, The Armstrong Lie) who will have two films screening, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison Of Belief and Mr Dynamite, on singer James Brown.
As well as presenting a 10-film Ingmar Bergman retrospective, David Stratton will team up again with Margaret Pomeranz for a session called “the films we love: the neglected and the unexpected”.
There are two documentaries featuring Russell Brand – Ondi Timoner’s Brand: A Second Coming, which the English comic called “oddly intrusive and melancholy” when he boycotted it at the South by South West festival recently, and Michael Winterbottom’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, which has Brand launching a tirade against society’s ills.
The two-part mini-series The Secret River, based on a Kate Grenville novel that also became an acclaimed play, will screen ahead of its ABC broadcast. Directed by Daina Reid , it stars Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Sarah Snook.
The Sydney Film Festival runs June 3-14. Full details at sff.org.au