The 2015 Sydney Film Festival has started! The festival will this year see a seriously impressive amount of must-see cinema from all corners of the globe. So, the question is, how will you decide what films to watch? Why not ask the man who might know best?
We sat down with Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley and came away with 11 films that he says should simply not be missed.
Here is our lowdown on the festival’s hot picks:
- Ruben Guthrie
Ruben Guthrie is the feature length directorial debut of award winning playwright, screenwriter and actor Brendan Cowell. From the minute he finished watching the movie, Moodley knew it was an immediate inclusion in the festival’s lineup – specifically as it’s opening night feature. He loves the film unabashedly and believes that it is the perfect choice to open the festival, and we agree. Darkly funny, honest and full of rich complex characters, Ruben Guthrie looks like a film that will shine light not just on human characters and their flaws but also on the city of Sydney itself. The film played at a sold out opening night gala last night, but you can still grab tickets to the second screening of the film on Monday 8 June at the State Theatre. Get in quick, this one will sell out!
- Gayby Baby
Gayby Baby is the first feature length documentary from Maya Newell following her short doc Two, which won Best New Documentary Talent at F4 AIDC. It follows the story of four children from all over the world (including Sydney) who are raised by gay parents. One of the first movies to sell out one of its sessions, Moodley describes the film as both powerful and moving, and has yet to show it to an audience that hasn’t been left emotional by the film’s end. He expects the film to be a big hit and, given the subject matter, we can see how this will resonate with audiences. Touching, frank and delightfully humorous, Gayby Baby takes a look at the debate of same sex couples from a new and smaller perspective that no one else has before. Definitely one to add to the list!
- The Tribe
A challenging film that Moodley describes as one of the most sought after inclusions to secure in this year’s festival, The Tribe is a unlike anything you have seen before. Winner of over 25 awards at numerous international film festivals, The Tribe is the first film for director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, and boy does this have an incredibly interesting premise! Told completely in Ukranian sign language with no subtitles or voice-overs, The Tribe seems like nothing short of a unique and unforgettable experience. Whilst it may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, The Tribe appears to be an audacious, visually evocative and explicit film in both detail and story. We cannot wait for this one.
- The Hunting Ground
Covering one of the most controversial issues facing colleges right now, The Hunting Ground tackles the tough issue of rape on college campuses. Following on from his Academy-award nominated expose into sexual abuse in the army, The Invisible War, Kirby Dick follows the story of two young women who decide to fight back and take a stand. An official selection for the Sundance Film Festival, The Hunting Ground evokes feelings of outrage on its subject’s behalf and, as the film did Moodley, the trailer left us feeling angry and indignant. Honest and powerful, The Hunting Ground is an important part of the conversation not enough people are having.
- Love & Mercy
The Beach Boys were one of the most influential bands of their time, creating a soundscape that would live on for generations. Love & Mercy is the story of the band, and in particular, founding member Brian Wilson as he strives to create what would become the most iconic of the Beach Boys albums, Pet Sounds, and following him through the bizarre aftermath that would follow. Split into two timelines, one during the creative process and the other following Wilson’s subsequent breakdown and illness after the album, Love & Mercy is Moodley’s pick of music-related films in the festival. Featuring performances from Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson in each of the timelines as well as Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, Love & Mercy is a charming and genuine letter of gratitude to Brian Wilson, and the woman who saved him. Check out our review HERE.
Shot entirely on iPhones around LA, Tangerine is the story of two transgender sex workers on Christmas Eve. Sound simple? It is anything but. Moodley describes this film as one of the most chased after films in this year’s selection. He says he is yet to see a film of this quality shot on cell phones and we are inclined to agree. The trailer shows a high quality film that is as outrageous and hilarious as it is intimate and heartfelt. The performances that director Sean Baker gets from first-time actors look to be honest, raw and powerful. This is easily one of the movies we at The Reel Word are most excited about catching. Riding the trend of recent successes like Transparent, Tangerine takes a pointed focus on the lives these transgendered women and makes them the main focus, instead of the quirky, offbeat offside characters we are accustomed to. Refreshing and unique, this is definitely a movie to look out for.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Coming off the back of a successful Sundance Festival appearance, where it won both the Jury and Audience Prize, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl is an unusual film that Moodley firmly believes has its place in the festival. Taking a sweet, comical and unique look at life and morality, the film looks to be an ode to movies, cinema, creativity, and living life to its fullest. Centered on the young and relatively fresh faces of R.J Cyler, Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl looks to offer real and honest performances. Although we only saw the trailer, this seems to be type of film that could emotionally resonate with audiences with its quirky mix of comedy and pathos. This could be quite the sneaky hit!
- Last Cab to Darwin
Written, produced and directed by Jeremy Sims (Beneath Hill 60), Last Cab to Darwin is based on his play of the same name. This is the story of Rex, a cab driver that decides to finally venture out of Broken Hill after finding out he doesn’t have long left to live. Moodley predicts that the film will him home with audiences in large part due to the amazing performance of Michael Caton in the lead. Supported by a wonderfully strong cast, including Jacki Weaver, Ningali Lawford Wolf and Mark Coles Smith, Last Cab looks to offer a heartwarming and honest look at life and death. Although perhaps it seems more typical and formulaic than other offerings, Last Cab could be one to draw both laughter and tears from its audience. We’re in.
A very different take on the old American western classic, Aferim! is as unusual as it is unique. Following the story of a father and son as they travel to capture an escaped slave, Aferim! is a comedy about slavery. Yes, a comedy…about slavery! Shot entirely in black and white, this Romanian offering from Radu Jude (who took home Best Director at last year’s Berlinale) deftly balances its heavy subject matter with a sincere and light touch. Although Moodley notes that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, we at The Reel Word definitely think this is worth a look – especially if you are a foreign film buff!
- Necktie Youth
A nod to Moodley’s own personal South African heritage, Necktie Youth captures the unique sound of a disadvantaged youth in contemporary Johannesburg. Described by Moodley as dark yet funny, Necktie Youth is reminiscent of the early works of Kevin Smith. Director and screewnwriter Sibs Shongwe-La Mer looks to be bringing to the screen an honest and sometimes all too real look at a group of young teens struggling to make sense of their selves, in a country that is similarly struggling with establishing itself and its identity. Shot entirely in black and white and presented in Afrikaans, English and Zulu with English subtitles, Necktie Youth could be a unique and original film that has not only a promising South African voice, but also a promising global one.
- A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
From one of Moodley’s favourite directors, Roy Anderson, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a film that is entirely unlike anything else you will see. Fifteen years in the making, the film follows on from Anderson’s Songs From the Second Floor and You, the Living (SFF 2008) to complete The Living Trilogy. It’s hard to quite put into words what exactly it is that is so compelling about this filmm but the trailer is a grand mix of quirky, hilarious and immersive. Making its Australian premiere at the festival, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch is a uniquely individual tale.