Sydney Film Festival postponed to November

With the Greater Sydney lockdown due to extend until at least the end of the month, Sydney Film Festival, intended to run August 18-29, will now move to new dates in early November.

This is the second date change for the festival so far this year; typically, SFF is held in June. It pushed its dates to August to following the shifts of major festivals like Cannes and Berlin.

In 2020, the festival was initially cancelled outright, before organisers pivoted to a smaller, online-only line-up of 33 films.

However, this year, while various models were considered through the COVID outbreak, moving entirely online was not an option, nor was a hybrid festival.

SFF CEO Leigh Small tells IF that in rescheduling to November, the most important consideration was that the festival be able to go ahead in person, noting that audiences want to get back into cinemas, and industry is financially reliant on an in-cinema model.

“We built the 2021 year based on the principle that in-cinema was the most important element to our festival,” she said.

“In January, when we did a small summer season in the State Theatre, we were really overjoyed with the response from the audience because they flocked back, masked up and came to the cinema.”

In early June, the festival released 22 titles prior to the main program launch; these include 2020 Berlinale Golden Bear winner There Is No Evil, from Mohammad Rasoulof; Janicza Bravo’s Zola; and Christian Petzold’s Undine.

Locally, there are documentaries such as Philippa Bateman’s Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow; Amanda Blue’s Step into Paradise and Eddie Martin’s The Kids, as well as Kiwi films The Justice of Bunny King, led by Essie Davis, and Canadian co-production, Night Raiders.

The full program is already in place and was supposed to launch on July 21. The executive decision was made to delay the launch until lockdown ended, but as “things got progressively worse”, Small, the board and other senior management then began to look at moving the festival by months.

“We concluded that the most important thing for the festival was certainty. That was for the filmmakers, because they had accepted our invitation to screen as part of the festival. All of those films their release cycles and strategies are also as shifting as our festival; we thought we needed to commit to the films to be able to keep them,” Small said.

“We also needed to commit to the audience and our staff so that there was some sense of certainty of what could happen. We made the decision last week that the least amount of risk and the most amount of certainty that we could plan around was delaying to the very last date in the year that we could.”

Small estimates there may be a handful of films, around 15, that may be impacted because they are scheduled to release theatrically between August and November, but notes the COVID landscape is may impact those release dates too.

And there are potential positives to the date push; the opportunity to program more titles out of Cannes and Venice.

They were always films that we couldn’t put into our June festival, but we can actually put them into our November festival.

“Our commitment is to continue with the program that we’ve currently created, and if there are any variables and some films may choose to drop out because of their release cycle, then that gives us the opportunity to invite some titles that we wouldn’t get for June 2022.”

Small notes that over the last two years, the SFF team have been reviewing and reflecting on the festival’s purpose.

“We still come back around to: for the business of film and for our place in the international festival circuit, our position is to be in-cinema festival,” Small says.

“You’ve got to diversify. Certainly the virtual platform that we established last year opens up other opportunities for the festival to do with programming outside of our 12-day festival or to program to a more remote audience. But currently, it would be impossible to pivot this program that we have to an online festival because those titles are not going online until they’ve gone theatrical.

Program will be announced when lockdown lifts. All subscriptions and flexipasses are valid for the new dates.

Sydney Film Festival will run November 3-14.