‘The New Boy’, ‘The Dark Emu Story’, ‘Run Rabbit Run’ bound for 70th Sydney Film Festival

'The New Boy'.

Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy is heading direct from Cannes to Sydney Film Festival, where it will be the opening night film for the event’s 70th edition.

Speaking at the launch of the program yesterday evening at Sydney Town Hall, festival director Nashen Moodley said there had never been a film he had wanted to secure in his 20 years of programming for festivals more than The New Boy, calling Thornton “a hero of mine.”

He went on to describe the film as a “beguiling story of spirituality and survival”.

“Gorgeous, elegant, concise storytelling is augmented with spectacular images and a uniformly superb cast, including a group of very promising young actors playing the boys at the monastry.

“It is a film of great symbolism, and in fact, The New Boy finds Thornton at the height of his cinematic power. It is intoxicating and magical.”

In recent years, Sydney Film Festival has almost always opened with an Australian film, and frequently of late it is one from First Nations filmmakers, including anthology feature We Are Still Here last year, as well as Ivan Sen’s Goldstone and Mystery Road. Indeed, Thornton last opened the fest in just 2017 with documentary We Don’t Need A Map.

The New Boy, which Roadshow just dated yesterday for an ANZ theatrical release July 6, is one of the most anticipated Australian titles of the year. It will make its world premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard program later this month.

Set in the 1940s, the film is led by newcomer Aswan Reid as a nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy who arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery, run by a renegade nun, played by Cate Blanchett.

Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair also star, alongside newcomers Shane Brady, Tyrique Brady, Laiken Woolmington, Kailem Miller, Kyle Miller, Tyzailin Roderick and Tyler Spencer. Producers include Dirty Films’ Blanchett, Andrew Upton, and co-producer Georgie Pym, Kath Shelper for Scarlett Pictures and Lorenzo De Maio of De Maio Entertainment

The New Boy is also one of 15 films in the Sydney Film Festival’s official competition, competing for the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize.

Australian feature documentary The Dark Emu Story, directed by Allan Clarke and produced by Blackfella Films, is also in the competition line-up, as is Australian Alice Englert’s directorial debut feature Bad Behaviour, a New Zealand-produced dark comedy starring Jennifer Connelly, Ben Whishaw, Dasha Nekrasova and herself.

‘The Dark Emu Story’.

The Dark Emu Story explores the work of Bruce Pascoe, whose best-selling book challenged Australia’s historical narrative and revolutionised understanding of traditional Aboriginal life. It dives deep into the controversy surrounding Pascoe’s claims, offering a platform for First Nations peoples to share their untold stories. Following the film’s State Theatre screening on June 18, Pascoe will sit down for an in conversation talk at The Hub.

Englert’s Bad Behaviour follows Lucy (Connelly), a former child actress who seeks enlightenment at a retreat led by spiritual leader Elon (Whishaw) also navigating the close, yet turbulent relationship with her stunt performer daughter, Dylan (Englert).

In the competition direct from Cannes are Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster, Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves, Kim Jee-woon’s Cobweb and Asmae El Moudir’s The Mother of All Lies.

Other films vying for the main prize include Christian Petzold’s Berlinale Silver Bear winner Afire; Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper; Celine Song’s Past Lives, Liu Jian’s Art College 1994 and Devashish Makhija’s Joram.

Overall Sydney Film Festival’s 70th line-up will include 239 films from 67 countries, including 34 world premieres and 125 Australian premieres. The program is made up of 90 narrative feature and 54 documentaries, and more than 50 per cent of the overall program is directed or co-directed by women.

The Closing Night film is yet to be announced, with Moodley hinting the festival is still working to secure a major film to bookend the event, as well as several other films for the broader program.

On introducing the program to the public, Moodley said: “Cinema is a remarkable snapshot of the time in which it’s made and absorbed by the audience. Sydney Film Festival has been very fortunate to document and reflect these times for 70 years now.

“We celebrate this milestone with all of Sydney, as it’s the ever-curious cinema culture of the city that has allowed us to reach this momentous occasion and made it such a welcoming event for films and filmmakers from all over the world.

“For our 70th edition, we once again share remarkable films from around the world, including from countries which we very rarely see films from, like Yemen, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They’re films and filmmakers of our time, but also of our future. The program celebrates cutting edge cinema who speaks to who we were, are and can be.”

To celebrate its 70th anniversary, Sydney Film Festival will host a special archive exhibition of its history in at The Hub. Over the last two years, the festival team has also been updating its digital Living Archive, renewing it with a new user-friendly interface, more images and oral histories.

The Living Archive will have a community component, with Sydney Film Festival CEO Frances Wallace encouraging all to participate. “If you have that photo of you from the 1970s opening night in your flared pants, or your ticket stub from the 1980s, go onto the website and upload the ephemera that you have. It’s called a Living Archive as we want to build it with the SFF community,” she said at the launch.

The Australian line-up for the festival this year also includes Daina Reid’s psychological thriller Run Rabbit Run, which debuted in Sundance and sold to Netflix globally; Benjamin Millepied’s Carmen, an Australian-French co-production that first bowed in Toronto, and from SXSW, the Cairnes brothers’ latest horror, Late Night With The Devil.

This year, Sydney Film Festival has also launched an Independent in Spirit program, designed to champion independent films by bold new Australian voices. The five films on the line up include three feature debuts, including Jack Clark and Jim Weir’s Birdeater, Gabriel Carrubba’s Sunflower and Dane McCusker’s The Big Dog, as well as Amin Palangi’s Tennessine and Ulysses Oliver’s Love Road.

Flux: Art+Film, which explores the ground between art and cinema, features two Australian projects, Soda Jerk’s Hello Dankness, which first screened in Berlin, and Polish-Australian filmmaker Kuba Dorabialski’s Connection of the Sticks, while Claire Pasvolsky’s Three Chords and the Truth will play as part of the Sounds on Screen strand.

Screening in ‘The Box Set’ section are the first two episodes of new ABC series, Bay of Fires, produced by Archipelago Productions and Fremantle Australia.

From Tribeca, the festival will bring to local audiences US film Transition, from Australian director Jordan Bryon and US producer Monica Villamizar. The documentary follows Bryon as he undergoes transition while embedded with Taliban forces.

As announced last week, Aussie animation Scarygirl, directed by Ricard Cussó and Tania Vincent and featuring the voices of Sam Neill, Anna Torv, Jillian Nguyen, Deborah Mailman, Tim Minchin and Dylan Alcott, will also make its world premiere in the family section.

The $20,000 Documentary Australia Award will be contested by 10 local documentaries including Matthew Bate’s The Defenders; Michael Ware’s The Cape; Isabel Darling’s The Carnival, Johan Gabrielsson’s Climate Changers, Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Man on Earth; Angus McDonald’s Freedom is Beautiful; Brenda Matthews and Nathaniel Schmidt’s The Last Daughter; Berlinale Silver Bear Jury Prize short film winner Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black); Rachel Ward’s Rachel’s Farm; Adrian Russell Wills and Gillian Moody’s Kindred; and Tyson Mowarin’s Keeping Hope.

Climate Changers and Rachel’s Farm will also vie for the 2023 Sustainable Future Award, which this year has increased from $10,000 to $40,000, making it the biggest cash prize in the world for a film tackling climate change and sustainability. Also nominated are international docs Against the Tide and Paradise, as well as the 11 climate environment orientated shorts that were developed via the Your Planet initiative, a partnership between Sydney Film Festival, ABC and the Australian Museum.

Contending Australia’s longest running short film comp this year, the Dendy Awards, are Harry Stone’s The 2IC, David Ma’s The Dancing Girl and the Balloon Man, Kiara Rodriguez-Hextall’s Kariwa, John Harvey’s Katele, Sophie Somerville’s Linda 4 Eva, Prajdnik Awasthi’s Marionettes (And the Virtue of a Lotus Flower), Alec Green and Finbar Watson’s Teacups, Bernice Jiang’s To Fly a Kite, Kate Blackmore’s We Circle Silently and Kalu Oji’s What’s in a Name?.

With AFTRS celebrating 50 years this year, the festival will screen early works of its alumni filmmakers, including those from its first ever cohort in 1973 – Gillian Armstrong, Phillip Noyce and Chris Noonan. Other alumni to feature include Ivan Sen, Jane Campion, Cate Shortland, Robert Connolly, Sue Brooks, and Catriona McKenzie.

As previously announced, this year’s Sydney Film Festival will also feature a broad retrospective of the works of Campion, including her nine features as well as a selection of her shorts and a documentary about her life and career. Campion will also appear in conversation with David Stratton on June 10. There will also be a retrospective of the works of Amitabh Bachchan, in celebration of his 80th birthday last year.

International highlights for this year’s festival include direct from Cannes Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City; Anurag Kashyap’s Kennedy; Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days; Amat Escalante’s Lost in the Night and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Pictures of Ghosts, as well as Un Certain Regard titles Rodrigo Moreno’s The Delinquents and Omen, from Belgian-Congolese artist and rapper Baloji.

Also coming off the international festival circuit are Ira Sachs’ Passages and Mel Eslyn’s Biosphere, starring Mark Duplass and Sterling K. Brown, Silver Bear winner Angela Schanelec’s Music; Jafar Panahi’s No Bears, which won the Special Jury Prize in Venice; Sacha Polak’s Silver Haze, which won Berlinale’s Teddy Jury Prize Award, and Raging Grace, which won the SXSW narrative grand jury award.

The program also has in store Daniel Goldhaber’s How to Blow Up A Pipeline, Alice Troughton’s The Lesson; A. V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One, winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize; Georgia Oakley’s BAFTA-nominated Blue Jean; and Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20,000 Species of Bees.

Among the films to have State Theatre presentations are Tina Satter’s Sydney Sweeney-starrer Reality, and as previously announced, Red, White and Brass, directed by Damon Fepulea’i and executive produced by Taika Waititi. It will also host debut features from He Shuming, Ajoomma, and actor Randall Park’s Shortcomings, which premiered in Sundance.

International docs programmed include Peter Nick’s Stephen Curry: Underrated; winner Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance, Maite Alberdi’s The Eternal Memory; Nicolas Philibert’s Berlinale Golden Bear winner On the Adamant; Madeleine Gavin’s portrait of a family escaping North Korea, Beyond Utopia; Christoffer Guldbrandsen’s Roger Stone doc A Storm Foretold, and Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky and Ukrainian filmmaker Yevhen Titarenko’s Eastern Front, described as the “definitive documentary” so far about the war in Ukraine.

At the festival launch yesterday evening, Screen NSW announced that Animal Logic co-founder and VFX supervisor Chris Godfrey would be the recipient of this year’s UNESCO Sydney City of Film Award, a $10,000 cash prize. Godfrey, who credits include Moulin Rouge!, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Australia, Hacksaw Ridge and Mortal Kombat, will be presented the award on the closing night of the festival, and will also deliver its annual Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture.

As usual, the festival will also include a series of free talks for audiences, filmmakers and industry. A number of the talks this year focus on climate change and the environment: Sustainable Screens Australia will officially launch on June 8, while journalist Sandy George will sit down with Rachel Ward to discuss the making of Rachel’s Farm on June 11. Some of the filmmakers behind the Your Planet shorts will also discuss their films with the Australian Museum’s Dr Jenny Newell on June 11.

The 10 filmmakers who have been selected for the Platform – For Film’s Sake Incubator will pitch their projects to the public and a panel of industry experts June 17.

Sydney Film Festival runs June 7-18, with tickets on sale today. Venues this year include 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, Australian Museum and Art Gallery of NSW.