'We Are Still Here'.

First Nations anthology feature We Are Still Here will be the opening night film at next month’s Sydney Film Festival.

Making its world premiere, 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.

Produced by No Coincidence Media and Marama Productions, the film’s beginnings are in a joint Screen Australia and New Zealand Film Commission initiative that was designed to give Indigenous filmmakers opportunity to respond to the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival.

Four writer/director teams were chosen from each country. From Australia, they include Beck Cole and Samuel Nuggin-Paynter; Danielle MacLean; Tracey Rigney and Dena Curtis, and from New Zealand, Tim Worrall and Richard Curtis; Renae Maihi; Miki Magasiva and Mario Gaoa; Tiraroa Reweti and Chantelle Burgoyne.

Mitchell Stanley and Toni Stowers produce for No Coincidence Media, while Mia Henry-Teirney produces for Marama.

While We Are Still Here was originally focused on the Cook anniversary, Stanley told IF in 2020 that through development they had shifted the focus of the project, stating: “The consensus from all the writing teams was that we want to tell stories about us, we don’t want to focus on the British Empire or colonisation. That’s not what we are.”

The story is told through the eyes of eight heroic protagonists, focusing on showing the strength of love and hope required to overcome shared traumas that Indigenous people have continued to face.

Cast include Meyne Wyatt, Megan Wilding, Clarence Ryan and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne.

“We are truly honoured to hold the world premiere of We Are Still Here at one of it’s natural homes – the Sydney Film Festival. This film is a testament to the strength and resilience of First Nations people all over the world, and we dedicate this success to our ancestors of the past, and our descendants of the future,” said Henry-Teirney.

Sydney Film Festival typically opens with a local film, with recent years including Here Out West, Palm Beach, Warwick Thornton documentary We Don’t Need A Map, Ivan Sen’s Goldstone and Mystery Road.

“Bringing together a range of genres including animation, sci-fi, romantic comedy, and period drama, We Are Still Here highlights the vibrant storytelling talents of First Nations filmmakers in our region,” said Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley.

“We’re delighted to open our 2022 festival, with the world premiere of this multifaceted and impactful film and usher back in the return of our Opening Night Gala after three years, celebrating the film, the festival and our local industry.”

Other local titles already announced for Sydney Film Festival include Macario De Souza’s 6 Festivals, Hannah Barlow and Kane Senes’ Sissy, Luke Cornish’s Sydney street dance doco Keep Stepping and David Easteal’s docudrama The Plains and Back to Back Theatre’s Shadow. The full program will be unveiled May 11.

Dark Matter Distribution will distribute We Are Still Here in Australia, while Rialto is handling NZ.

Sydney Film Festival runs June 8 – 19.

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