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Guide: The Director’s Top 5

“Step out of your comfort zone.  Take a risk and choose something outside your usual taste – maybe a Korean horror flick, an uncomfortably experimental short film, or a meandering Chinese drama.” This is the advice of 8 times Sydney Film Festival (SFF) Director Nashen Moodley, who has personally viewed all 307 of the shorts, feature films and documentaries screening in this the 66th year of one of the world’s longest running film festivals.  His advice is apt given it was his exposure to eclectic and unusual films as a child in South African that sparked a life-long love of cinema and an enduring curiosity for expanding his horizons in all directions. In the interest of pushing our boundaries and putting us on a path of discovery, Nashen has given us a discerning insider pick of 5 films that are worth watching.  All movies are directed by women, revealing the festival’s strong focus on female filmmakers.

JUDY & PUNCH *Official Competition, Directed by Mirrah Foulkes, Australia. Actor turned Director Mirrah Foulkes further cements her status as a rising star of the Australian film industry with her genre-bending period piece / black comedy / female revenge drama feature starring fellow Aussies Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman based on two Punch and Judy puppeteers.  Speaking at the IndieWire Sundance Studio, Foulkes reveals “Essentially I just wanted to make something bold and fun and weird that felt unique and of its own world” before adding “Judy & Punch is bat-shit-crazy and fun!”.

VARDA BY AGNES, Directed by Agnes Varda Viva la Varda!  The life’s work of the late ‘French New Wave’ film pioneer Agnes Varda culminates in this her final film.  Her signature philosophical ruminations and visual playfulness overlay a pastiche of clips from her films, behind-the-scenes footage, and dramatised reconstructions.  This is an enchanting, funny, and poignant immersion in the visuality and vision of Varda, a true auteur and trailblazing feminist of our time. Also part of the SFF programming is the Agnes Varda Retrospective featuring 10 Varda films which can be purchased in one package for $140, and a free talk by ACMI’s Kristy Matheson who curated the Viva Varda Retrospective, and Paramount House’s own film curator Kate Jinx .

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, Directed by Gurinda Chadha This unashamedly feel-good, toe-tapping coming-of-age narrative is based on the life and memoir of Guardian journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and set to the musical score of his hero Bruce Springsteen.  Directed by Anglo-Indian female filmmaker Gurinda Chadha (Bend it Like Beckham, Viceryoy’s House), it follows the life of a British-Pakistani teenager Javed (Viveik Kalra), finding the strength to overcome adolescent issues, small town racism, and parental disapproval through the lyrics of The Boss.  Incredibly, through a chance red carpet meeting, Springsteen gave his blessing for Chadha to use his music royalty free throughout the film, and it allows the audience to relish the ‘Glory Days’ of one of America’s greatest singers.

GOD EXISTS, HER NAME IS PETRUNYA *Official Competition, Directed by Teona Strugar Mitevska, Macedonia   Inspired by a true story, Zorica Nusheva plays Petrunya, a woman in her 30s, still humiliatingly living at home with her mum and dad in the eastern Macedonian town of Štip, unremarkable except for its annual practice of the men jumping into the river to retrieve a wooden cross tossed by an Orthodox priest.  The prize for the winner is good luck for a year but, for Petrunya who make a sudden irrational decision to jump in and retrieve the cross, it brings upon her the outrage and infamy of an entire country. The film work is visually striking and an impressive debut for new-comer Nusheva in the lead role.

THE SOUVENIR *Official Competition, Directed by Joanna Hogg, UK The 2019 Winner of the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, The Souvenir has been praised for its visually arresting compositions and dream-like vignettes that deftly weave a narrative of ill-fated romance. Directed by British auteur Joanna Hogg, and Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese, it is story loosely based on Hogg’s own self-conscious foray into first love and heartbreak during her early years at film school.  Fellow film school graduate and long-time friend Tilda Swinton, who acted in Hogg’s graduation film “Caprice”, is cast in this drama alongside her daughter and first-time actor Honor Swinton Byrne in this gorgeous deeply felt memoir.

FOCUS ON FEMALE FILMMAKERS: In addition to signing on to the 5050 by 2020 initiative, SFF is featuring two retrospectivesfeaturing female filmmakers, whilst also continuing its Europe! Voices of Women in Film program stream and featuring Frame, a photographic exhibition of female directors and producers behind the camera. In a festival strand not to be missed, Former SFF Director and acclaimed film critic David Stratton AM has selected 10 films directed by trailblazing Australian women. Some will be a revelation and an education, such as our first female director Paulette McDonagh’s The Cheaters(1933) who’s earliest work predated sound in movies, and Bedevil(1993) by Indigenous artist and photographer Tracey Moffatt, and others are highly celebrated such as Jane Campion’s Sweetie(1989) and Gillian Armstrong’s High Tide(1987) starring Judy Davis and Claudia Karvan. There is a discounted package of $140 + booking fee to see all 10 films in the collection ‘Essential Australian Women Directors: 10 Trailblazers Selected by David Stratton’ and single tickets are also available for $21, or $18 concession + booking fee. This are also many free public talks and exhibitions as part of the greater SFF program so visit the website https://www.sff.org.au/program for more information.

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