This June marks Nashen Moodley’s fourth year as director of Sydney Film Festival. To curate the selection he watches around 800 films a year. “We try to have a really diverse selection,” he says. Many of these screenings will be the film’s only time on Sydney screens. “We bring what we feel is the best of international cinema. We also provide a very important platform for Australian cinema.”

The festival’s atmosphere is as important as the films. It’s also a source of inspiration for those interested in the industry. “By presenting this international program,” Moodley says, “Australian filmmakers can experience what’s going on around the rest of the world and I think that can inform their own filmmaking.”

The Official Competition features the year’s most courageous and audacious films. One is ultimately awarded the Sydney Film Prize. “I think we have 12 outstanding films this year,” he says. “Some are very unusual. Tangerine, for instance, is shot entirely on iPhones. We have a six-and-a-half-hour film from Portugal (Arabian Nights) in three volumes, and a fantastic documentary called Sherpa.” Moodley admits picking favourites is near-impossible, but here are some top picks.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson is a master of the absurd. His films are comprised of meticulously crafted vignettes and never fail to bamboozle. Moodley says: “I adore the film. Andersson has a very particular sense of humour. It looks at humanity, how humans treat each other and how humans treat animals … this lack of empathy that sometimes creeps up.”

Arabian Nights
Don’t let the staggering runtime scare you, this is a three-day experience unlike any other. Moodley says: “The director [Miguel Gomes] commissioned journalists to travel all over the country writing up these stories about people living life in Portugal in severe economic strife. Those stories were brought back and fictionalised. He [Gomes] tells all these stories in the form of Arabian Nights. I think it’s incredible storytelling and incredible filmmaking.”

Holding the Man
Tim Conigrave’s powerful memoir arrives on the silver screen, directed by Neil Armfield. An epic love story between Conigrave and John Caleo, this film is sincere and beautiful. Moodley says: “It’s just a tremendous work – a really romantic, heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting love story. I think it’s going to play incredibly well.”

Last Cab to Darwin
Many years in the making, this film, directed by Jeremy Sims, reimagines the acclaimed 2003 stage play. Rex (Michael Caton) is a taxi driver from Broken Hill, a real lone wolf. After receiving a terminal diagnosis, he sets out on a road trip across the vast outback. Moodley says: “A brilliant Australian film that we’re presenting as a world premiere. Such wonderful performances; it’s a film that’s very funny and very sad the same time.

In one mind-boggling take, Sebastian Schipper gives us Berlin. A new breed of heist film, Victoria pulses with the vibrant energy for which the European capital is known. Moodley says: “It’s different from other single-shot films. What this film does so brilliantly is it moves around, it moves quite some distance. It’s really a snap shot of Berlin, of Berlin’s party life, but then has this serious element because it’s about a bank robbery.”

Sydney Film Festival runs from June 3–14.
Full program and tickets available from the Sydney Film Festival.