Sydney Film Festival is one of the biggest events in Australian film each year. Running from June 7 to 18, it takes over close to a dozen of Sydney’s most iconic venues, cinemas and picture palaces with a program of more than 250 movies from Australia and around the globe, including world and Australian premieres.

It doesn’t stop at the movies, though. There are red carpet galas, talks with filmmakers and parties with cast and crew, so it can be hard to figure out where to start if you’ve never been before. To help make things a little simpler, we spoke to SFF’s head of programs, Jenny Neighbour, to get the inside track on how to tackle two weeks of world cinema like a festival veteran.

Be open-minded
With so many films to choose from, it pays to be a bit bold. “Thinking ‘I don't know if I'll like this, but I'll give it a go’ is worth it because sometimes you will have the most amazing experiences,” says Neighbour. “Seeing a film with a crowd, sitting together in the dark, they speak to you in a different way. Seeing a film like that, you often find your mob.”

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If you are looking for an out-of-the-box experience, Neighbour’s top picks are either the foot-stomping biopic Little Richard: I Am Everything, or the Sundance smash hit about people escaping North Korea Beyond Utopia. “One gets your toes tapping, the other gets your head thinking,” she says.

Whatever genre you’re interested in though, you’ll have plenty of options. Wes Anderson buffs can check out his latest, Asteroid City, before its general release, while Penelope Cruz fans have L'immensità to look out for. Thirteen films are being fast-tracked from the Cannes Film Festival, including the opening night film and red-carpet Australian premiere of Warwick Thornton’s latest, The New Boy (starring Cate Blanchett). And the closing night screening is the Australian premiere of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Visit the State Theatre
There are festival venues all over the city, but Neighbour says to make sure you see something at the lavish State Theatre, where even the bathrooms are a sight to behold.

“It’s a beautiful place, with an amazing atmosphere. It’s just over 2000 seats, and it’s so ornate,” she says. “It has a Wurlitzer [organ], which has recently been restored. It rises up through the floor in front of the stage and turns around to face you, and we're going to be playing it throughout the festival. It's a treat you don't get very often at the movies.”

Meet the filmmakers
A big part of Sydney Film Festival is the range of events held alongside the screenings. It’s an opportunity to meet and hear the people behind many of the films on show, whether at the screenings themselves or at talks and Q&As afterwards.

“A lot of filmmakers don't get to meet their audiences very often,” says Neighbour. “Some of them have worked on these films for six, seven years sometimes. To be in the room when they're sharing it with an audience for the first time is something so special.”

The Hub is the place to be
The Hub is the social centre of the festival, set up at the Sydney Town Hall for the duration of the festival. Neighbour suggests piling your hair high for the Hairspray party, but there’s also plenty of pre- and post-session drinks and debriefs.

“It's one of those spaces where you can eavesdrop on what people are talking about in terms of the film they've just seen,” says Neighbour.

Alongside the parties and drinks, there’s also a few panels and discussions. There’s the chance to see actor and director Rachel Ward discussing her latest film *Rachel’s Farm, or hear author Bruce Pascoe sitting down for a talk after a screening of The Dark Emu Story, as well as a series of panels taking place throughout the festival.

Plan ahead
The best way to experience the festival, though, is to plan ahead by working out what sessions you want to see in advance. “[On the website] you can narrow things down by genre, by language, by documentary, and so forth,” says Neighbour. “You can also just flick through and go, I want to see the big titles that are at the State Theatre on a Wednesday night.”

Neighbour suggests you start by shortlisting everything you want to see (regardless of dates and times) and working it out from there. “You start out with way too many and then you can tick them off ... You can curate your own program.”

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Sydney Film Festival is on from 7 - 18 June. See more information and book tickets here

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