For 64 years Sydney Film Festival has screened some of the best local and international cinema. It has undeniably boosted Australia’s film industry, and is one of the longest-running film festivals in the world.

Today, SFF announced the first release of 28 films from the 2017 program. With more than 250 movies in total, this initial handful is promising. Resuming his role as festival director for the sixth year, Nashen Moodley has curated a diverse and daring range of cinema – from debut features and big-name blockbusters to gritty documentaries, shorts and animation. “We’re in for a good year,” says Moodley. “It’s a long process selecting the films. We look for a geographical range, we look for a range in genre. It’s quite a broad selection.”

An obvious crowd-gatherer will be A Ghost Story. The lo-fi, minimal love story stars Oscar winner Casey Affleck and critically acclaimed actor Rooney Mara. “It’s a very exciting, unusual film,” says Moodley. “It’s about grief, love and longing, and the passage of time. There’s going to be a lot of excitement around it at SFF.”

Documentary is a huge component of the festival, with almost half of the first batch of films falling under that category. Whitney. ‘Can I Be Me’ will garner lots of attention. The documentary chronicles the late Whitney Houston’s career and personal life, including unseen recordings and footage of the star.

Other documentaries include Liberation Day, which follows Slovenian group Laibach, the first rock band to ever perform in North Korea, and Winnie, which explores the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, wife of the late Nelson Mandela. I Am Not Your Negro, however, is the one Moodley is most excited for.

“It really is a tremendous film. Life-altering,” he says. Directed by political activist and filmmaker Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary is a radical narration of race relations in America based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book, Remember This House.

Foreign feature titles include Hotel Salvation by Shubhashish Bhutiani – a charming comedy about ageing, death and traditional Hindi philosophy. An unusual road movie Pop Aye, set in Thailand, and follows a man returning home to see his childhood elephant after many years of separation.

Wolf and Sheep is by one of Afghanistan’s first female directors, Shahrbanoo Sadat. “[It’s] a truly amazing film,” says Moodley.

Moodley says The Untamed is another highlight. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’m really excited to see how people react to it.” The film combines sci-fi erotica with social realism and explores the disturbing lives of people living in modern-day Mexico. “It’s beautifully controlled and you’ll be completely shocked by what you see,” he says. “It’s a staggering achievement.”

BAFTA-nominated Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa) is back with a documentary. Mountain is based on the award-winning book Mountains of the Mind. The cinematography is breathtaking, shot by one of the world’s best adventure cinematographers, Renan Ozturk, and the score is composed by Richard Tognetti of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

That’s Not Me is an Australian indie-comedy debut feature from husband-and-wife team Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher. The film has a cast of Australian actors including Isabel Lucas, Richard Davies, Andrew S. Gilbert, Steve Mouzakis and Benjamin Rugby.

“Sydney Film Festival is so important to the Australian film industry,” says Moodley. “It provides a great platform for these Australian films to be seen by an audience of great numbers. It also provides Australian filmmakers the opportunity to see what’s happening in cinema around the world. It’s a chance for interaction with other filmmakers. The chance for ideas and innovations.”

This year, SFF is also celebrating 10 years of its Sydney Film Prize at the Golden Age Cinema. From March to May, the past winning films will be screened every Tuesday.

The full SFF program will be released Wednesday May 10. The festival runs June 7–18.