One of the spiciest festivals on Sydney’s events calendar is the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI). It approaches challenging and divisive topics head on. “It’s very much a festival for our times,” says festival director Danielle Harvey. “It’s not necessarily for everybody, but everybody is welcome.”

In its first festival in two years, FODI’s program features keynotes from journalist Masha Gessen (who is on the Kremlin’s wanted list), writer David Runciman (who proposes giving six-year-olds the right to vote), psychologist Jean Twenge (who raised the alarm on the negative impacts of smartphones many years ago), and Roxane Gay (author of Bad Feminist).

“Roxane Gay is one of my favourite contrarians,” says Harvey. “She’s coming to us to talk about how to have dangerous ideas. I think somebody teaching us how to engage and how to speak up – when it’s much easier to self-censor and not share your opinions – is one of those things I’m talking about when I say it’s a festival for the ages.”

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FODI takes place at Carriageworks over one weekend (August 24–25) and, importantly, all its speakers are appearing in person. “There are some ideas that you simply can’t talk about and think about when there is so much cheap and shallow information, and bad faith [online],” says Harvey. “We need a place to come together and have ideas, question them, test them out.”

One of the speakers is South African philosopher David Benatar – who wrote the New Yorker article The Case for Not Being Born. “He’s very much the poster person of the anti-natalist movement, and this is going to be one of those sessions that really appeals to people who want to dig in deep with philosophy – and to look at the case for not having children, whether it’s ethical about what kind of world we’re bringing children into, or the concept that if we want to avoid suffering, why would you even be born.”

There’ll be panel talks too, including one on Uncancelled Culture with Roxane Gay, Megan Phelps-Roper (the host of podcast The Witch Trials of JK Rowling), Andy Mills and David Baddiel, who’ll explore the possibility of redemption and second chances.

Coleman Hughes is also on the line-up. The author of The End of Race Politics will join broadcaster Josh Szeps for a live edition of the Uncomfortable Conversations podcast. Canadian gynaecologist Jen Gunter will be talking about myths and misogyny in women’s health. And academic Saree Makdisi will argue that Europe and America are complicit in tolerating the intolerable in Palestine. He’ll ask what might now be possible, for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Then there’s Hamish Macdonald and Avani Dias who’ll look at the growing cohort of authoritarian world leaders. Ex-ABC journalist Antoinette Lattouf will speak about when journalists become the story. And academic Todd Fernando, a descendant of the Kalarie peoples of the Wiradjuri nation, will interrogate tensions around Indigenous excellence.

“Those who have the best experiences at FODI experience it with curiosity,” says Harvey. “Choose something that you like the sound of, then choose something that makes you feel a certain way – you don’t like the idea or you have a big reaction to it – then choose something you wouldn’t normally go and seek out, like artificial womb transplants or maybe it’s horror movies.”

As part of the FODI’s program there’ll be a mini horror movie festival, curated by Talk to Me writer-director Danny Philippou. He’s screening three horror movies and talking about our primal fascination with fear. Plus, there’ll be a new artwork suspended in the foyer of Carriageworks – made entirely of sticky tape – that you’re invited to crawl through, at your own risk.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas 2024 runs over August 24 & 25 at Carriageworks. Tickets are on sale from Wednesday June 26.