‘Carmen’, ‘The Survival of Kindness’ headline Adelaide Film Festival program

'Carmen'. (Photo: Ben King)

The Adelaide Film Festival has unveiled the full program for its first annual edition, which carries the theme of ‘A Celebration of Imagination’.

This year’s event incorporates 129 films, of which there are 22 world premieres and 32 Australian Premieres from more than 40 countries.

Local highlights include Rolf de Heer’s The Survival of Kindness (previously The Mountain), which tells the story of BlackWoman, who is abandoned in a cage in the middle of the desert. Following her escape, she travels across lands and walks through pestilence and persecution, to find those who left her to die. Produced by de Heer, alongside Julie Byrne and co-producer Ari Harrison, the film stars Mwajemi Hussein, Deepthi Sharma, and Darsan Sharma.

Other AFF Investment Fund (AFFIF) projects to screen are Benjamin Millepied’s French/Australian co-production Carmen, which comes fresh from its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival; Jolyon Hoff’s Watandar, My Countryman, about Afghani/Australian photographer Muzafar Al’s exploration of his identity through the history of Afghani’s in Australia; and Larissa Behrendt’s You Can Go Now, detailing 50 years of First Nations activism in Australia through the lens of contemporary Australian Aboriginal artist Richard Bell, whose installation Embassy will be shown as part of the festival.

There will also be the world premiere of The Giants, a documentary by Laurence Billet about Bob Brown and the life of trees. Brown, who was last year’s recipient of The Bettison & James Award, will do a presentation on the majesty of Tasmania’s Tarkine, sharing his firsthand encounters of frontline resistance and why action to protect Adelaide’s nearest great rainforest is urgently required.

Bob Brown

The titles join previously announced Australian films Talk to Me, directed by Danny and Michael Philippou (aka RackaRacka) and starring Sophie Wilde and Miranda Otto; Lily Sullivan-starrer Monolith from the Film Lab: New Voices initiative; Sean Lahiff’s environmental horror/thriller Carnifex; Brenda Matthews and Nathaniel Schmidt’s feature doc The Last Daughter; and Madeleine Parry’s The Angels: Kickin’ Down The Door, which will open proceedings.

AFF CEO and creative director Mat Kesting said the local films formed part of an “incredible cross-section of remarkable screen talent” within this year’s program.

“Adelaide Film Festival is a home for the courageous creatives at the frontier of film art and those who help to forge our national identity through the exploration and creation of ideas and culture,” he said.

“The festival is proud to present the directorial debuts of directors, Australian and international, alongside a diverse array of extraordinary and award-winning films from around the globe, and welcome a growing Australian guest list including AFF patron Margaret Pomeranz, Bob Brown, David Jowsey, the Angels, the RackaRacka Brothers, Brenda Matthews, Djiniyini Gondarra, Richard Bell, Soda Jerk and Lynette Wallworth, in addition to international guests we look forward to announcing soon.”

This year’s Feature Fiction Competition field comprises Heusera, a psychological horror that plays on the unspoken loss of identity that comes with motherhood by Mexican director Michelle Garza Cervera; Riley Keough’s War Pony, made in collaboration with South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota community; Romanian/French film Metronom, winner of the Best Direction prize at Cannes for Alexandru Belc; James Napier Robertson and Paula Whetu Jones’ biopic of iconic Maori elder and activist Whina Cooper, Whina; and genre-defying Mexican feature Sansón and Me by Rodrigo Reyes.

Deciding this year’s prize are visual artist, performer, filmmaker, and academic Ali Gumillya Baker, South Australian producer Lisa Scott, Samoan-born New Zealand director Tusi Tamasese, film critic and author Luke Buckmaster, and Jim Kolmar, who programs for SXSW and the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.

Next month’s festival will also feature the return of the Change Award for positive social or environmental impact, with international titles, Jerzy Skolimowsky’s EO, Lars Ostenfeld’s Into the Ice, and Becky Hunter’s Fashion Reimagined competing alongside Luku Ngarra, an Indigenous funded documentary on the history and culture of Arnhem Land through the eyes of traditional lawmen and elders, including Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, who will be a guest of the festival.

‘Luku Ngarra’

Australia is also well represented in the world cinema program, which includes Jonathan Ogilvie’s Lone Wolf, Jub Clerc’s Sweet As, and Sydney Film Festival opener We Are Still Here, helmed by ten Indigenous directors from Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.

A selection of films from the international festival circuit will be housed at new partner venue, the Capri Theatre, where audiences will be able to enjoy the Australian premieres of Todd Field’s Tár, starring 2022 Volpi Cup winner Cate Blanchett, and Martin McDonagh’s Irish drama The Banshees of Inisherin, alongside Michael Grandage’s My Policeman and Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, both of which were announced last month.

Other Australian premieres in the program include Qiu Jiong-jiong’s A New Old Play, Andrés Ramírez Pulido’s Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prize winner La Jauría, Yugo Sakamoto’s Baby Assassins, and Saim Sadiq’s Joyland.

The Australian premiere of Locarno Film Festival Grand Prix winner, The Hamlet Syndrome, will be presented by Polish director Elwira Niewiera, who will join Adelaide theatre director Chris Drummond for an expanded discussion open to schools.

As part of this year’s program launch, artistic director Pat Rix was awarded the 2022 Bettison & James Award, administered by the Adelaide Film Festival on behalf of the Jim Bettison and Helen James Foundation. For over 30 years, Rix has worked with people from diverse backgrounds and organisations to build inclusive, respectful relationships across social, geographical, and cultural divides. She will speak at AFF, giving an in-depth interview about her life journey towards building an artistic community based on trust and respect.

The Adelaide Film Festival Board has also already recognised Bunya Productions co-managing director and producer David Jowsey, who is this year’s Don Dunstan Award recipient.

Awarded to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to Australian screen culture, previous recipients include Andrew Bovell, Bruna Papandrea, Judy Davis, Freda Glynn, David Dalaithngu Gulpilil, Rolf de Heer, Scott Hicks, Dennis O’Rourke, and the combined contributions of David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz.

The announcement of the awards was made ahead of the festival, which will be held October 19-30. Find the full program here.