Year on year, film festivals are growing in Sydney, offering movie buffs the breadth of human experience. Palace’s Italian Film Festival, in particular, has expanded into the largest public celebration of Italian cinema outside of the country itself. Last year it attracted 86,500 people nationally.
“Film festivals promote different cultures and languages and multiculturalism,” says Palace festival director Elysia Zeccola. “Film is one of the most fun ways to do this.”
One organisation that really knows where it’s at is Film Festivals Australia – a not-for-profit initiative representing more than 50 specialist film festivals in Sydney, from homegrown to international and every kind of niche interest. They’ve won a thumbs-up from Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney. She says, “I think it’s incredibly important, because we’re made up of 200 nationalities here in this city, as well as our First Australians. We have such diverse backgrounds and we have amazingly diverse stories to tell.”
If you like your horizons broad, here are our top 10 festival picks.
Latin American Film Festival
The best thing about the Latin American Film Festival? Half the films are directed by females. With eight features, two documentaries and seven short films on offer, there’s a lot to get through.
Highlights include the Australian premiere of Patricia Ramos’s On the Roof, which follows three young dreamers who lie on the rooftops of Havana every day sharing their hopes of setting up their own local business. Another favourite is Sebastián Borensztein’s Koblic, set in Argentina in 1977.
There will be drinks and snacks on arrival from 6.30pm.
The Latin American Film Festival is on September 24 at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.
Italian Film Festival
Returning for its 18th year in a row, the Italian Film Festival’s bill spans 30 flicks. We’re excited about Katia Bernadi’s Sea Dreaming Girls, which follows a group of women who live in the tiny mountain village of Daone in northern Italy as they plan a holiday to the sea.
The Italian Film Festival runs from September 12 to October 8 at Palace.
Festival of Australian Film
After signing up for a membership at AACTA (The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts), you’ll have access to a year of great film for $80 (including this festival). Our film pick is Liam Worthington’s One Less God, which follows a band of young Islamic militants during one of the most horrifying terrorist attacks in India.
The Festival of Australian Film runs from August 28 to September 21 at Event Cinemas.
Sydney Underground Film Festival
In its 11th year, the Sydney Underground Film Festival is all about celebrating independent cinema. Get a free ticket to Cult of Chucky– the seventh iteration of the demonic doll franchise; or there’s Liam Gavin’s A Dark Song, about the black magic that arises after two strangers are locked in a house.
The Sydney Underground Film Festival runs from September 14 to September 17 at Factory Theatre.
Sydney Sci-Fi Film Festival
The annual Sci-Fi Film Festival celebrates feature films by indie filmmakers. Don’t miss Transfiguration, about troubled teen Milo, who is obsessed with vampires. He meets Sophie and a bond is quickly formed. Milo’s fantasies then begin to blur into reality.
The Sydney Sci-Fi Film Festival runs from October 11 to October 15 at Event Cinemas.
Queer Screen Film Festival
Returning for its fifth year, the Queer Screen Film Festival will unveil 20 movies across five days. David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson puts together rough archival footage of the transgender legend, following an activist who is trying to uncover the truth behind her death. Monja Art’s Seventeen is a coming-of-age Austrian drama exploring the stresses of being a teenager as a group finds itself caught in a web of attraction.
The Queer Film Festival runs from September 19 to September 24 at Event Cinemas.
Japanese Film Festival
The Japanese Film Festival is returning for its 21st year. Highlights include Masatoshi Kurakata’s Nekoatsume House, which focuses on novelist Masaru, who is under immense pressure from his editors and readers. After escaping to the country he meets a cat, who leads him to transform his yard into a cat heaven. Another highlight is Michio Koshikawa’sLife and Death on the Shore, set in the Amami Islands during the end of World War II. When the Imperial Japanese Navy arrives, a schoolteacher named Toé begins a secret romance with young captain Saku.
The Japanese Film Festival runs from November 16 to November 26 at Event Cinemas.
Sydney Transgender International Film Festival
The Transgender Film Festival aims to establish an understanding of trans issues in Australia. Savannah Bloch’s And Then There Was Eve follows Alyssa, a successful photographer who wakes up to find her husband missing one morning. She finds solace through her husband’s colleague Eve, who helps her accept his absence and even makes her fall in love again.
The Sydney Transgender Film Festival runs from September 31 to October 1 at Cinewest.
Antenna Documentary Film Festival
This annual documentary festival explores thought-provoking ideas through 50 local and international films. Festival favourites include Faces Places, which is directed by Agnès Varda together with street artist JR. The camera follows the duo as they travel across rural France creating giant photo installations of the people they meet along the way.
The Antenna Documentary Film runs from October 10 to October 15 at Chauvel CInemas.
Drone Film Festival
The second annual Drone Film Festival will import 36 international short films (including a handful of documentaries) by production companies, film directors and everyday drone lovers. Watch last year’s films here to get a taste of what’s to come.
The Drone Film Festival is on October 3 at Dendy Cinemas.
Winda Film Festival
In its second year, the Winda Film Festival returns to light up the screen with Indigenous stories. Winda (which translates to ‘stars’ in the Gumbaynggirr language), will screen Lee Tamahori’s Mahana, which revolves around Maori family rivalries and reconciliation.
The Winda Film Festival runs from November 23 to November 26 at Hoyts.
At the largest Russian film festival outside of the country itself, one to definitely put in your diary is the Australian premiere of Valery Todorovsky’s latest film, The Bolshoi. It revolves around a young girl who dreams of becoming a dancer. There’s also adventure film Spacewalkers, based on the true story behind the race to the moon between the USSR and the USA.
The Russian Resurrection Film Festival runs from October 26 to November 19 at Event Cinemas.