First Sydney Film Festival titles and new venue announced

‘West of Sunshine.’

The Sydney Film Festival today announced the first batch of 26 titles which will premiere at this year’s event and an additional screening venue.

A selection of family films and Screenability, the platform for screen practitioners with disability, will screen at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park.

These screenings of around 20 sessions, primarily at weekends, will make the festival more accessible, particularly to filmgoers who have disabilities, according to SFF director Nashen Moodley.

The initiative follows complaints at the world premiere of Defiant Lives, Sarah Barton’s doc on the rise of the disability rights movement, at last year’s festival that the cinema only had room for four patrons in wheelchairs.

Despite the challenging outlook for independent films worldwide, Moodley is delighted with the initial program and other titles he has secured after viewing at least 400 films.

“From the films I have invited I got virtually everything I wanted so I am very confident I will have a great program for our audiences, ” he tells IF.

“More and more films are being produced but the range of films being released in cinemas is reducing a great deal. Fewer films in languages other than English are being distributed theatrically in Australia, which saddens me because it means that while films are available to the festival we want them to have a life beyond the festival.”

The SFF’s attendances have risen every year, indicating the proliferation of film festivals in Australia – almost at the rate of one a week – has had no impact, although Moodley acknowledges that has increased the competition for films from some countries.

The line-up includes four new Australian titles, with more to be added. First-time director Jason Raftopoulos’ drama West of Sunshine (distributor: Exile Entertainment), which premiered in Venice last year, stars Damian Hill and his stepson Ty Perham in the saga of a father’s rocky relationship with his stepson while dealing with his gambling debt.

Travis Beard’s documentary RocKabul examines Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band District Unknown. Jessica Leski’s I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story (Madman Entertainment) explores the pains and pleasures of loving a boyband as a teenager and beyond.

Animated family film Maya the Bee: Honey Games (StudioCanal) is co-directed by Noel Cleary, Sergio Delfino and Alexs Stadermann and features the voices of Richard Roxburgh, the Umbilical Brothers’ Dave Collins and Shane Dundas and Coco Jack Gilles.

Another highlight will be the National Film and Sound Archive’s new digital restoration of Gillian Armstrong’s 1979 breakthrough My Brilliant Career, which marked the debut of Judy Davis, hopefully with both attending.

Among the other titles which Moodley is most looking forward to introducing is Bart Layton’s Sundance hit American Animals (Madman), based on the true story of four college students who plan to steal original editions of John James Audubon’s book Birds of America and a unique Darwin volume from the Transylvania University, for no apparent reason. While actors play the four characters the real people also appear as themselves, older and wiser.

Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace (Sony Pictures) stars New Zealander Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie as a 13-year-old who lives with her war veteran father (Ben Foster) in the wilderness due to his post-traumatic stress condition before they are discovered by authorities.

The Freak Me Out program will include Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing (Rialto), a psychosexual thriller starring Mia Wasikowska and Christopher Abbott; and Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories (Icon), which stars Martin Freeman as a professor who uncovers a long-lost file containing accounts of three paranormal activity sightings throughout England.

Gender diversity will be a prominent theme. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s English-language debut Disobedience (Roadshow) is an LGBTQI love story starring Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola and Anton Lesser.

The winner of the 2018 Sundance grand jury award, Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Rialto) is a comedy-drama about a teenager (Chloë Grace Moretz) sent to a Christian conversion camp to cure her of her lesbian tendencies.

Spanish director Carlos Marques-Marcet’s Anchor and Hope is billed as a comedic tale about a same sex couple, parenthood and their donor male best friend in a cramped canal boat in London.

Meanwhile the 2017 Venice Film Festival grand jury prize winner, Israeli director Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot centres on parents’ grief after their soldier son is killed.

The documentary line-up includes Lorna Tucker’s Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, a profile of revolutionary fashion designer Vivienne Westwood; Cameron Yates’ Chef Flynn, which examines a prodigy who created hot-ticket tasting menu dinners at the age of 11 and worked under some of the world’s most celebrated chefs at 13; and Christian Frei and Maxim Arbugaev’s Genesis 2.0, which follows scientific efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth.

The 65th annual festival will run from June 6-17 at returning venues the State Theatre, Dendy Opera Quays, Dendy Newtown, Event Cinemas George Street, Art Gallery of NSW, the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne, Randwick Ritz and Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

The full program will be launched on May 9. Flexipasses and subscriptions are on sale now. Call 1300 733 733 or visit for more information.