'6 Festivals'.

Sydney Film Festival has today unveiled the first 22 films on its line-up, with the event ready to return in-person during its traditional June dates for the first time since 2019.

While 2021’s festival was only held last November, director Nashen Moodley hasn’t been deterred by the quick turnaround required to craft this year’s program.

“We’re incredibly optimistic about the festival in June after seeing people in the cinemas in November with incredible enthusiasm,” he tells IF.

“There were some amazing moments, not just for the audience, but also for the filmmakers who were there… so many of whom were seeing the film for the first time on the big screen themselves.

“The program has come together quite nicely. There is still some work to do to finalise it, but we’re in a very good place and we can’t wait to kick off.”

According to Moodley, the first 22 titles announced today all speak to the range of the human experience, from the large scale to the very intimate.

Particularly exciting to him are the four Aussie films: Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ Sissy, fresh from SXSW; Macario De Souza’s 6 Festivals, ahead of its premiere on Paramount+; Luke Cornish’s Sydney street dance doco Keep Stepping and David Easteal’s docudrama The Plains, set entirely within a car, coming to Sydney from Rotterdam.

“We already see in this short selection of films exciting new Australian talent; people making their first feature films,” Moodley says.

“That’s always very exciting for me to say, ‘Here’s the next generation of Australian talent’. I think that’s a very good indication for our industry, that we have talented young people making films and emerging on the world stage.”

Written and directed by de Souza, 6 Festivals stars a host of up-and-coming talent in Yasmin Honeychurch, Rory Potter, Rasmus King, and Guyala Bayles, together with cameos Australian and international music acts like G Flip, Dune Rats, Alison Wonderland, Bliss n Eso, Peking Duk, PNAU, Example, Hooligan Hefs, The Amity Affliction, JessB, B Wise and Running Touch.

An Invisible Republic, Hype Republic and Helium film, 6 Festivals follows a group of three best friends, Maxie (King), Summer (Honeychurch) and James (Potter), who ‘bucket-list’ six music festivals over six months while coming to terms with James’ cancer diagnosis. Jade Van der Lei, Michael Wrenn, and Shannon Wilson-McClinton produce.

Moodley says the film about young friendship is told in touching detail, while also being incredibly vibrant – it was shot at actual music festivals.

“Along with the film industry, the live music industry has suffered so much over these last few years. It’s just a wonderful celebration of art and live music and how that can change people’s lives,” he says.

Art is also at the centre of Keep Stepping, a doco which follows the parallel stories of two different female street dancers from Sydney as they train for the biggest street dance competition in Australia, Destructive Steps.

The project was filmed over seven years, and marks Cornish’s first feature-length project following other work such as Amazon/LadBible Australia docuseries Unheard.

Moodley says Keep Stepping is a “a very inspirational film about an obsession with an artform and the transformative nature of engaging with that.”

Barlow and Senes’ Sissy comes to Sydney from SXSW, where the film scored raved review and was snapped up by AMC’s horror streamer Shudder for English-speaking territories.

The Canberra-shot horror comedy is headed by The Bold Type‘s Aisha Dee, who plays Cecilia, a successful social media influencer who is living the dream until she runs into her ex-teenage best friend, Emma (Barlow).

After reconnecting, Emma invites Cecilia on her bachelorette weekend at a remote cabin in the mountains, where Alex (Emily de Margheriti) – the girl who came between their friendship – proceeds to make Cecilia’s weekend a living hell. Daniel Monks, Yerin Ha, Lucy Barrett, Shaun Martindale, Amelia Lule, April Blasdall and Camille Cumpston also star.

‘Sissy’.

Sissy is produced by Lisa Shaunessy and Bec Janek for Arcadia, John De Margheriti for DEMS Entertainment and Freedom Films’ Jason Taylor.

According to Moodley, Sissy is funny, gory and fresh, and he tips Barlow and Senes as talent to watch.

As for The Plains, Moodley describes the film, set within the car of a Melbourne lawyer during his daily commute, as “remarkable”.

It’s a three hour film set almost entirely in a car; it barely leaves the car. How do you make a film that’s three hours long, that’s mostly two guys talking compelling? It requires some sort of mastery, I think, and David Easteal has certainly done that.”

The Plains is Easteal’s first feature, working as writer, director, producer and actor, and follows Andrew Rakowski in the lead, a lawyer in his first acting role.

As for the international films, Sydney has already snared a number of Sundance titles, including Alex Pritz’s Audience Award and Special Jury Award (World Cinema Documentary)-winning film The Territory; Joe Hunting’s VRChat-shot We Met in Virtual Reality; Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen’s Calendar Girls, Rita Baghdadi’s Sirens, Anna Eszter Nemes and Laszlo Csuja’s Gentle, and Simon Lereng Wilmont’s House Made of Splinters, winner of the directing award in the World Cinema Documentary comp.

Moodley is also particularly excited to have on the line-up John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven, starring Jessica Chastain, Ralph Fiennes and Caleb Landry Jones. Set in Morroco, it explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims and Western visitors.

There is no one quite like him in terms of of the films he makes. We’ve shown all of his films at the festival going back to The Guard,” he says.

It’s blackly funny, but also quite quite moving. The dialogue, of course, is very witty, very smart.”

He’s also proud to be presenting Mikhaël Hers’ slice-of-life drama The Passengers of the Night, led by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

It’s this very delicate family drama, nostalgic in a sense, set in 1980s Paris, very beautifully designed, great soundtrack and lovely performances and a film about little acts of kindness and and how they can have such a such a profound impact.

Other highlights include Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet, starring Asa Butterfield and Gwendolyn Christie; Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please, featuring Andrea Riseborough and Demi Moore and Caroline Monnet’s Bootlegger, led by Reservation Dogs star Devery Jacobs.

There’s also Kamila Andini’s Yuni, winner of Toronto’s Platform prize, Alina Grigore’s Blue Moon, winner of the Golden Seashell at San Sebastian; Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon, winner of Toronto’s NETPAC Award, and Aly Muritiba’s Deserto Particular, winner of the BNL People’s Choice award at Venice Days.

The full program will launch May 11, and Moodley estimates it’s currently about 80 per cent complete. He promises a schedule full of strong Australian films, and new talent from around the world.

“In November, we had a festival filled with really established filmmakers… This festival, there’ll be a great deal of new talent, and that’s exciting, to introduce new talent and new filmmakers from around the world to the audience of Sydney. That’s going to be a hallmark of this year’s selection.”

Sydney Film Festival runs June 8 – 19.

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