An eclectic mix of big names and emerging talents star in the 69th Sydney Film Festival

The Sydney Film Festival opening night film “We Are Still Here”, from the festival’s First Nations strand, interweaves eight stories by ten directors. Photo: Sydney Film Festival/supplied.

Just seven months since the last Sydney Film Festival, we’re finally seeing the events return to their traditional June dates. Tahli Blackman speaks with festival director Nashen Moodley about this year’s festival highlights.  

“There is a good reason why festivals are held one year apart. We were determined to bring the festival back to its traditional June dates and it may sound strange, but we started working on this year’s additions before last year’s additions,” reveals Sydney Film Festival (SFF) director Nashen Moodley.

Thanks to the multiple postponements caused by Covid-19, Moodley was able to screen films for the upcoming festival between August and November of last year.

“We started preparations early on, still it was quite a task to bring it about so soon, but I’m really delighted with what we have,” Moodley tells The Sentinel.

The 69th Sydney Film Festival will present over 200 films from over 64 countries, including 27 world premieres. There is a selection of 101 feature films, which include international festival prize-winners and 53 documentaries from established and upcoming documentarians hitting the screens.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in Elvis. The film, directed by Baz Luhrmann, promises to be a highlight of the 2022 festival. Photo: Sydney Film Festival/supplied.

This year’s opening night film is We Are Still Here – a major collaboration between First nations filmmakers, actors and producers from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Eight short stories come together to form a moving narrative about Indigenous resilience and shared traumas dating back to white settlement.

Moodley feels that all the films running in the Official Competition are amazing and encourages people to view them.

“The 12 films in the Official Competition are so unique. The brand-new films Return to Seoul, Godland, Close and Burning Days have come straight from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and are quite incredible,” he says.

Among the 12 competing films are two Australian debut features, Goran Stolevski‘s supernatural tale You Won’t Be Alone, starring Swedish BAFTA-nominated actress Noomi Rapace, and Blaze – a story that celebrates female rage and resilience, starring Julia Savage, Yael Stone and Simon Baker. This feature film is two-time Archibald Prize-winning artist Del Kathryn Barton’s directorial debut.

Noomi Rapace starts in Goran Stolevski’s You Won’t Be Alone, which had its world premiere at Sundance 2022. Photo: Sydney Film Festival/supplied.

“I think there’s a wonderful balance of really established, big names but also incredible new talent,” says Moodley.

Two of the biggest events on the SFF program come from multi-award-winning Australian film icon Baz Luhrmann. The first is the Australian debut of this year’s big-name film, Elvis, a biopic about the life of one of the world’s most influential stars and his rise to fame in the 1950s, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. Also showing as part of this year’s Restoration strand is a digitally remastered 4K version of Strictly Ballroom, the film that launched Luhrmann’s career as an internationally acclaimed director.

“I think it’s good to have big budget, very popular films like Elvis at the festival as it’s really a celebration of cinema in all forms. It adds to the profile of the festival and brings people to come and view more and more films,” Moodley says.

There are also many other big-name actors starring in the SFF line-up. Oscar-winning actress Jessica Chastain co-stars with Ralph Fiennes in The Forgiven, a dark drama directed by John Michael McDonagh. This film follows a wealthy divorcing couple who try to cover up their accidental murder of a young Moroccan man.

Cha Cha Real Smooth starring Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson, will screen at the Sydney Film Festival on 11 and 12 June. Video: Apple TV/YouTube.

Dakota Johnson, Brad Garrett and Leslie Mann also star in director Copper Raiff’s coming-of-age comedy Cha Cha Real Smooth. The storyline of this film is about a man who works as a bar mitzvah party host and his unique friendship with a young mother and her teenage daughter.

Returning to SFF this year is a selection of international documentaries diving into contemporary topics.

Director Ha Le Diem brings us, Children of the Mist, a story about a 13-year-old girl living in a North Vietnamese village, belonging to the Hmong ethnic minority. In this society, marriage is linked to the controversial tradition of “bride-napping”; viewers of the documentary are given a rare look at these ethnic traditions.

Other documentaries to look out for include We Met in Virtual Reality – which focuses on relationships formed entirely on the virtual reality platform VRChat during the pandemic – and Alex Pritz’s stunningly filmed The Territory, which follows the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people of Brazil as they fight against land grabs and illegal logging in their sacred Amazon rainforest.

Director and cinematographer Alex Pritz made this exceptional award-winning documentary The Territory in close collaboration with the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people. Photo: Sydney Film Festival/supplied.

Luke Cornish’s world premiere of Keep Stepping will also be a highlight, along with eight other documentaries competing for the Documentary Australia Award. Keep Stepping follows the parallel worlds of two Sydney-based street dancers, Patricia and Gabi, as they train for a competition.

“We are trying to encourage people to return to the cinema … we want people to come to SFF to experience films in a way that you can’t do when you’re at home.”

– Nashen Moodley, festival director

There are more than 100 filmmakers attending the SFF this year from all over the world. Moodley believes there will be many opportunities for audiences to interact with them.

“There will be question and answer sessions before and after most films, as well as talks and panels,” says Moodley.

“We are trying to encourage people to return to the cinema. It’s been such a tough time for the film business so we want people to come to SFF to experience films in a way that you can’t do when you’re at home.”

The 2022 Sydney Film Festival will run from Wednesday, 8 June to Sunday, 19 June, 2022. For the full program, film synopses, trailers and tickets, visit sff.org.au.

Tahli Blackman is the arts and entertainment editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

For further news, features, reviews, interviews, opinion, podcasts and more, visit https://sydneysentinel.com.au. You can also like/follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.