Sydney’s biggest celebration of cinema will return this winter, and a teaser of the program has been released with the announcement of its first 12 films, including Wiradjuri woman Brenda Matthews’s investigation into the Stolen Generation and a Kiwi comedy about rugby superfans produced by Taika Waititi.
Sydney Film Festival (SFF) marks its 70th anniversary in 2023, and will take place across the city’s cinemas from June 7 to 18, with more than 200 films to be featured. Since 1954, SFF has brought more than 10,000 films, documentaries and shorts to audiences.
“The 2023 program will expand on this legacy, promising to ignite stimulating dialogues and present powerful ideas that will broaden audience perspectives,” said Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley in a statement.
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Among the first 12 films announced are two new Australian documentaries and a feature film produced by New Zealander Waititi. Doco Rachel’s Farm follows actor-director Rachel Ward (Palm Beach) as she revitalises her northern NSW beef farm using sustainable farming practices.
The Last Daughter, follows Wiradjuri woman Matthews as she seeks to uncover the truth about her government-ordered abduction as a child, and find her white foster family. Both Matthews and Ward will attend the festival to present their documentaries.
From across the ditch comes New Zealand comedy Red, White & Brass, directed by Damon Fepulea’i (The Market) and executive produced by Waititi (Our Flag Means Death, Jojo Rabbit, What We Do in the Shadows). The feature film is based on the true story of Tongan rugby superfans who trick their way to the Rugby World Cup by volunteering to be the marching band, despite having no musical experience.
International films in this first drop include No Bears by director Jafar Panahi (Tehran Taxi, Three Faces), who is banned from making films in his home country of Iran. The film won the Venice Film Festival Special Jury Prize. Also on the line-up is Christian Petzold’s Afire (Undine, Barbara) about four young people trapped in a holiday house as a wild fire draws near. The film won the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize.
Penelope Cruz (Parallel Mothers) stars in L’immensita as a mother going through a divorce, as her child embraces his gender identity in 1970s Rome. The deeply autobiographical work comes from director Emanuele Crialese (Golden Door, Terraferma). A Couple is a narrative feature film from veteran documentary maker, 92-year-old Frederick Wiseman (City Hall), about the turbulent relationship between Russian literary giants Leo and Sophia Tolstoy.
In the documentary Subject, directors Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall explore the impact documentaries have on those who participate in them – and includes those involved in high-profile documentaries such as The Staircase, The Wolfpack, Capturing the Friedmans, Hoop Dreams and The Square. The film raises important questions about the responsibility documentarians have towards their subjects.
The first 12 films also include powerful stories that document resistance against government systems. Bobi Wine: The People’s President follows the journey of the Ugandan musician-turned-politician as he campaigns to end the country’s dictatorship. And in While We Watched, director Vinay Shukla (An Insignificant Man) covers the struggle of award-winning Indian journalist Ravish Kumar against misinformation and political power as he fights to uphold independent reporting. Shukla will be attending the festival to present his documentary to Sydney audiences. Lav Diaz (Season of the Devil) explores another power system in the drama When the Waves Are Gone, about the intertwining lives of two policemen in the Philippines.
Surrealism and reality blur into one with Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, the debut film by director Pierre Foldes, which is an animated adaptation of the short story collection of the same name by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.
The full line-up will be released on May 10, when tickets to sessions will also be released.
Passes to Sydney Film Festival are on sale now.