‘Judy & Punch’, ‘Hearts and Bones’ in competition at Sydney Film Festival

‘Judy & Punch’. (Photo: Ben King)

Two Aussie films, Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch and Ben Lawrence’s Hearts and Bones, will be among the 12 features in official competition at this year’s Sydney Film Festival (SFF).

Also up for the festival’s $60,000 Sydney Film Prize are Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Never Look Away, which was nominated for two Oscars; recent Cannes selections such as Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, and Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau; Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award winner Monos, from directors Alejandro Landes and Alexis Dos; Joanna Hogg’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Souvenir; Nadav Lapid’s Golden Bear winner Synonymes, as well as Sacha Polak’s Dirty God, Teona Strugar Mitevska’s God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, and Kiwi director Hamish Bennett’s Bellbird.

Sydney Film Festival launched the full program for its 66th incarnation this morning at Sydney Town Hall, boasting a lineup of 307 films, including 33 world premieres.

In launching the program, festival director Nashen Moodley quoted the late French director Agnès Varda – to whom this year the festival will pay tribute via a retrospective – who said she wanted her films not to show things, but give people the desire to see deeply.

“The idea of seeing deeply and differently, and sparking a sense of curiosity, is very much one that Sydney Film Festival subscribes to – shining a light on subjects, films and filmmakers that are often little explored or seen,” Moodley said.

The festival director said the competition films this year explore variously gender, the intersection of the political and the personal, the power of art, and income inequality. “These films together make a strong argument for empathy and solidarity.”

SFF will mark the first Australian screening of Foulkes’ debut feature Judy & Punch, following on from its world premiere at Sundance in January. Starring Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman, the film is billed as “brutal, original and violent” reinterpretation of the 16th century puppet show Punch and Judy.

Lawrence’s debut feature Hearts and Bones, set in Western Sydney, will make its world premiere. It is the story of a friendship between a war photographer (Hugo Weaving) and a South Sudanese refugee (newcomer Andrew Luri), who are connected by a photograph that threatens to destroy them both.

The competition jury includes producer John Maynard, who serves as president, director Ana Kokkinos, Brazilian actor/director Wagner Moura, NZ filmmaker Gaylene Preston, and Indian artist and filmmaker Ritu Sarin.

As previously announced, writer-director Rachel Ward’s comedy drama Palm Beach, which stars Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Richard E. Grant, Jacqueline McKenzie, Heather Mitchell and Greta Scacchi, will open the festival on June 5 the State Theatre.

Ward will also be the subject of the Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture, appearing in conversation with David Stratton. The critic has also selected Ward’s first film, Beautiful Kate as part of a previously announced retrospective of films from Australian female directors.

The closing night film is yet to be announced, but is said to be the Australian premiere of a “buzzy new title”.

Ten local documentaries will compete for the $10,000 Documentary Australia Foundation Award. They are: Em Baker’s I Am No Bird; Maya Newell’s In My Blood It Runs; Samantha Lang’s Create NSW and ABC backed It Started With A Stale Sandwich; Kasimir Burgess’s The Leunig Fragments; Peter Hegedus’ Lili; Sasha Ettinger Epstein’s Life After Oasis; Lili; Selina Miles’ Martha: A Picture Story; Kaye Harrison’s Sanctuary; Erica Glynn’s She Who Must Be Loved; and George Gittoes’ White Light.

Australian film Standing Up For Sunny, directed by Steven Vidler and starring Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte, will make its world premiere in a special presentation at the State Theatre. It follows an isolated man with cerebal palsy (Mitte), who falls in love with an unassuming comedian (Philippa Northest), and also Barry Humphries, and Ella Scott Lynch. Mitte will also take part in a Screenability talk during the festival.

Partho Sen-Gupta’s Slam, which stars Rachael Blake, Adam Bakri, Danielle Horvant and Julian Maroun, will also make its Australian premiere at a State Theatre presentation, as will Richard Lowenstein’s documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence, following on from screenings at Tribeca and Hot Docs.

Other special presentations at the State are Brazilian director Moura’s Marighella; star-studded Cannes opening film The Dead Don’t Die, from director Jon Jarmusch; Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by The Light, Guy Nattiv’s Skin, which stars Aussies Danielle Macdonald and Daniel Henshall; the late Agnès Varda’s autobiographical film Varda by Agnès; Claire Denis’ High Life; Ritesh Batra’s Photograph; The Biggest Little Farm from John Chester; Ayumu Watanabe’s Children of the Sea; double Silver Bear winner So Long, My Son from Xiaoshuai Wang; and Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese.

Among the other local films to premiere is coming-of-age tale Sequin in a Blue Room, from Kiwi director Samuel Van Grinsven. An AFTRS Masters project, it follows a queer teenager who gets caught up in a recurring anonymous sex party and stars Damian de Montemas, Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Conor Leach, and Anthony Brandon Wong.

Kriv Stenders’ Vietnam War film Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, starring Travis Fimmel is also on the program, together with Jennifer Kent’s Venice Film Festival Special Jury Prize winner The Nightingale, Grant Sputore’s I Am Mother, and Imogen McClusky’s microbudget debut Suburban Wildlife, made for just $4000.

All four episodes of Foxtel/Lingo Pictures drama Lambs of God will screen as the festival’s television ‘Box Set’. The series, based on the novel by Marele Day, follows three nuns, living in an isolated convent by the coast, whose lives are changed by an unwelcome visitor. Directed by Jeffery Walker, it stars Ann Dowd, Essie Davis, Sam Reid and Jessica Barden.

As previously announced, Sophie Hyde’s Animals, which premiered at Sundance, is also on the line-up, as is Ian Darling’s documentary on Adam Goodes, The Final Quarter. 

This year’s event will also have a New Zealand focus, screening films from across the ditch such as The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps; Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen; Bellbird; Vai; The Heart Dances; Daffodils; Capital in the 21st Century and Come to Daddy.

Vai and Mereta will also screen as part of the First Nations strand, alongside Erica Glynn’s She Who Must Be Loved, horror anthology Dark Place (which features shorts from Bjorn Stewart, Perun Bonser, Kodie Bedford, Rob Braslin and Liam Phillips) and Canadian/Norwegian film The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, from Elle-Maija Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn.

Documentaries Saving Seagrass and Warburdar Bununu: Water Shield will also screen as part of the strand; each were made via Screen Australia’s State of Alarm initiative, which focused on how traditional practices of Indigenous people are being used to protect the environment.

Other strands this year include Europe! Voices of Women in Film; Freak Me Out; Sounds on Screen; Screenability; Family Films; Classics Restored and the All Night Cine-Love In. The Varda retrospective, titled Viva Varda, will be presented in partnership with ACMI and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) and include 10 features and four shorts.

Sydney Film Festival runs June 5-16. Tickets here.