Sydney Film Festival aiming to draw a ‘big emotional response’ with 2022 program

Noomi Rapace stars as "Bosilka" in director Goran Stolevski's 'You Won't Be Alone', a Focus Features release. (Image: Branko Starcevic / Focus Features)

Sydney Film Festival director and acting CEO Nashen Moodley hopes a program of “big emotions” will help cinemas continue to build momentum post-lockdown, with the full line-up for the 2022 event unveiled today.

Set to take place from June 8-19, the 69th iteration of the festival comes just over six months after last year’s edition, which was delayed twice due to COVID concerns.

This year’s program spans more than 200 films from 64 countries, including 101 feature films and 53 documentaries.

Speaking to IF, Moodley was confident the selections would be able to address the challenge of getting audiences back into cinemas “in great numbers”.

“Cinemas are open and have been for a while but the numbers are still not as they were pre-COVID,” he said.

“We see this as a continuation of that effort to get people back to the cinema but also to remind people why they love the cinema so much.

“I think these films are really emotional films that will draw big emotional responses and remind people of how and why they love the cinema so much.

“Over the last 2.5 years, we’ve all watched lots of things at home but there’s something very different about watching something in the State Theatre alongside 2000 other people and laughing, crying, and experiencing that jolt of shock in the cinema.”

Sydney Film Festival director and acting CEO Nashen Moodley.

As IF reported earlier this month, the world premiere of First Nations anthology feature We Are Still Here will open the festival. A joint initiative from Screen Australia and New Zealand Film Commission, the project traverses 1,000 years and interweaves eight stories of kinship, loss, grief, and resilience from across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the South Pacific.

There are contributions from Indigenous filmmakers of both countries, with the Australian contingent comprising Beck Cole, Danielle MacLean, Tracey Rigney, and Dena Curtis, while Tim Worrall, Richard Curtis, Renae Maihi, Miki Magasiva, Chantelle Burgoyne and Mario Gaoa make up the New Zealand group.

As with the 2019 event, the closing slot for this year’s festival remains open, with Moodley hoping to make an announcement “in the next few weeks”.

Two first-time feature directors with Australian ties will vie for this year’s $60,000 in-competition prize, with Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone and Del Kathryn Barton’s Blaze among the 12 competing titles.


Stolevski’s supernatural horror about a young witch in 19th century Macedonia had its world premiere at January’s Sundance Film Festival, where the Macedonian-Australian director drew comparisons with Terrence Malick and Jonathan Glazer.

Barton’s Blaze, a hybrid live-action, VFX and animation work, is also set for an international world premiere, having been selected for June’s Tribeca Film Festival in the International Narrative Competition.

You Won’t Be Alone and Blaze will be up against Cannes Un Certain Regard selection All The People I’ll Never Be from Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou; Emin Alper’s political thriller Burning Days; Hlynur Pálmason’s Godland; and Belgian filmmaker Lukas Dhont’s Cannes competition entry Close.

Also screening in competition are some big hitters from this year’s Berlinale, including Carla Simón’s Golden Bear-winning Alcarràs, Kamila Andini’s period drama Before, Now and Then, and Colm Bairéad’s Irish language feature, The Quiet Girl.

Rounding out the contenders are Alejandro Loayza Grisi’s Utama, Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love and Lorenzo Vigas’ The Box.

Umata also makes it onto the short list for the $10,000 Sustainable Future Award, which returns to the program after making its debut last year.

The love story about about an elderly Indigenous Quechea couple in the Bolivian highlands fighting to preserve their way of life will battle it out against five documentaries, two features and one short from project for the $10,000 prize, designed to highlight a narrative or documentary film of any length that deepens our knowledge and awareness of the impact of the global climate emergency.

The documentary titles comprise All That Breathes, The Territory; Fashion Reimagined; Delikado, and Into the Ice, while John Andreas Andersen’s eco-disaster thriller The Burning Sea and Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon are the other features on the shortlist. The short film selected is Big Water Summer: A Creation Story, in which a young Navajo woman returns to her ancestral lands to grow produce for her community.

There are some similarly strong messages in nine projects that will contend this year’s Documentary Australia prize.

Five of the finalists will have their world premieres at the festival, including Luke Cornish’s Keep Stepping, Jason van Genderen’s Everybody’s Oma; Penelope McDonald’s Audrey Napanangka, Brodie Poole’s General Hercules and Adrian Di Salle’s Polenta.

Also in the running are Maya Newell’s The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone, Karl Malakunas’ Delikado, Jessica Barclay Lawton’s The Sweetness, and Warrawong… the windy place on the hill.

Of the other world premieres to make their way to this year’s festival, Australian features are well represented, with Macario De Souza’s 6 Festivals, Rowan Devereux’s Evicted! A Modern Romance, and Molly Haddon’s The Longest Weekend all set to make their debut.

International titles to get their first showing at the festival include Kiwi comedy Nude Tuesday, from Armagan Ballantyne, and Karan Gour’s Indian magical realist drama Fairy Folk. Ballantyne and screenwriter Jackie van Beek will also appear as festival guests.

‘Nude Tuesday’.

Outside of features, audiences will get their first look at two upcoming series from Bunya Productions –Mystery Road: Origin and True Colours.

Moodley said being able to showcase the work of the First Nations directors involved in each project was “really important” for the festival.

“[Mystery Road: Origin director] Dylan River is a filmmaker that has had shorts in the festival and also won the documentary prize, so for him to direct an entire series is a major step forward in his career and a delight for us to play,” he said.

“The same goes for [True Colours co-director] Erica Glynn, who has also won the documentary prize and had many films at the festival over the years. True Colours, which she directed with Steven McGregor, is a major achievement in the way it is a quite compelling and thrilling murder mystery that also looks at the creation of Indigenous and the exploitation that sometimes happens, so there is very serious commentary there.”

Other local highlights of this year’s line-up include a special presentations of Gracie Otto’s Seriously Red and Craig Boreham’s Lonesome at the State Theatre, with both directors set to appear as festival guests, along with Seriously Red cast member/screenwriter Krew Boylan. The iconic venue will also house a screening of Australian director Sophie Hyde’s film, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande, starring Emma
Thompson as an older women who hires a sex worker.

As previously announced, Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ Sissy and David Easteal’s docudrama The Plains will continue their momentum from the overseas festival circuit, with the former leading the genre-centric Freak Me Out section after achieving SXSW success, while the latter comes to Sydney from Rotterdam. Fellow SXSW selection, Shadow, from Back to Back Theatre, will have its Australian premiere as one of six titles in the Screenability portion,

The Sydney Film Festival program includes two retrospectives, one co-presented with ACMI and NFSA is focused on influential American documentarian Frederick Wiseman; and the other on the revered Indian director Satyajit Ray.

Venues for this year’s event consist of The State Theatre, Event Cinemas George Street, Dendy Newtown, Palace Central, Palace Norton Street, Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne, Ritz Cinemas Randwick, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Art Gallery of NSW.

The festival’s outdoor screen, SFFTV, will be in Martin Place (June 2-18) and the Pitt Street Mall (June 15-19) between 8am to 10pm.

Find the full program for the event here.