The Sydney Film Festival has a line-up of 288 films from 59 countries. The program is impressively daunting, so we asked festival director, Nashen Moodley, to point us in the right direction. “Depending on the film, some are the only chance you’ll have to see new films on the big screen in Sydney, or even Australia,” he says. Here are the films you definitely shouldn’t miss.

FROM AUSTRALIA

Kriv Stender’s Australia Day
A world premiere, Australia Day takes a hard look at the edges of Australian society where prejudice runs rampant. Starring Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Isabella Cornish and Sean Keenan, the film follows the suspenseful tale of a 14-year old Indigenous teen fleeing from a car crash.

David Wenham’s Ellipsis
A touching love letter to Sydney, Ellipsis is a world premiere by Australian actor David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). It examines the spontaneous meeting of two strangers in Sydney as they journey from Bondi to Kings Cross. It was conceived, workshopped and shot over just 10 days.

Warwick Thornton’s We Don’t Need a Map
Opening the festival, We Don’t Need a Map explores Australia’s relationship with the Southern Cross, tracing it back through indigenous history and culture to the modern day. Thornton himself will attend the festival. “It’s fascinating and funny,” says Moodley. “It takes serious issues and carefully presents them in a funny way. It’s a really refreshing film.”

Benedict Andrews’ Una
Australian theatre director Benedict Andrew makes his film debut with a provocative feature. Starring Oscar-nominated Rooney Mara and Emmy-winner Ben Mendelsohn, the film is a contemporary retelling of David Harrower’s play Blackbird. Issues of sexual abuse, crime, tragedy and revenge are examined here, held up by brave, fiery performances. “This film will stay with you for a long, long time,” says Moodley. “It will leave people shocked.”

FROM CANNES

Sophia Coppola’s The Beguiled
Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst star in Sophia Coppola’s remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 Southern Gothic film. The film, also in competition for a Palme d’Or, is set during the American Civil War. The eerie story follows a young girl who discovers an injured soldier and decides to take him into her home. Once allowed into the house, the entire dynamic of the house and its residents changes as sexual rivalry and jealousy interjects. “This will get a lot of attention,” says Moodley.

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja
Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s film stars Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film brings sci-fi, drama, humour and action together as it shadows the journey of a young Korean girl who risks everything to save Okja, a massive animal. The director will attend the festival to unveil his film. “It’s a charming tale, but also takes in some contemporary issues. “We’re really excited to have it,” says Moodley.

Fatih Akin’s In The Fade
Starring Diane Kruger, In The Fade is a German thriller set in Hamburg. The film portrays the turbulent aftermath of an explosion as life collapses around the death of the protagonist’s husband.

Michael Haneke’s Happy End
Austrian director Haneke has won the Cannes Palme d’Or with his last two films, The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012). His latest masterpiece is an intimate invitation into the lives of a wealthy family living in Calais. Three generations of one family are placed under an unforgiving spotlight, as sexual desires surface alongside illegal business dealings. Nothing in this film is as it seems. “It’s about their different approaches to the world and their attitudes towards life,” says Moodley. “We have to put pieces of the puzzle together as the family is oblivious to what’s happening around them.”

FROM SUNDANCE

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name
Italian director Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash) has set his new film in the thick of the Italian countryside. It’s equally sophisticated and intelligent. A visual feast, the standout title at Sundance is a coming-of-age, queer romance. It captures summer in northern Italy with perfect stylisation and intense musical scores, exploring themes of adolescence and desire.

Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$
Bursting with energy, Patty Cake is about a young woman in New Jersey who wants to rise up out of her tough life to become a hip-hop artist. “Another hit at Sundance, this film is a marvellous, heart-warming, inspirational film with a fantastic performance by Danielle Macdonald,” says Moodley. “I think everyone knows she will be a star,” says Moodley.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 7–18. Tickets are on sale now.

sff.org.au