By Travis Johnson

The program for the 2017 Sydney Film Festival launched at Customs House this morning, with curator Nashen Moodley introducing the wealth of filmic treats that await Sydneysider cineastes this June.

This year’s opening film is Warwick Thornton’s documentary, We Don’t Need a Map, which looks at the histroy and significance of the Southern Cross and how it has changed through the ages, from its importance in Indigenous cultures before white settlement, to its contentious place as a patriotic and, some say, nationalistic and even racist symbol.

Meanwhile, the closing night film is Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, a Netflix film having its first and only Australian big-screen exhibition at the festival.


In between these two bookends comes a cavalcade of features, documentaries, shorts, discussions, panels, Q&As and more, taking place in venues throughout Sydney and, thanks to the Travelling film Festival, across New South Wales. All up, 288 films from 59 countries, including 10 world premieres.

Among those premieres are two films by Kriv Stenders, arguably the busiest director in the Australian film industry: the drama Australia Day, starring  Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Matthew Le Nevez, and Jenny Wu, and the music documentary, Right Here: The Go-Betweens, focusing on the legendary Brisbane band.

David Wenham’s debut as a feature director, Ellipsis, is also making its bow, while the veteran Australian actor will be the subject of this year’s Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture. David Stratton will host an In Conversation with Wenham covering the length of his career – only one of a number of talks this year with such luminaries as Ben Mendelsohn, and Vanessa Redgrave.

The Beguiled

12 films are screening in Official Competition this year, vying for the $60,000 cash prize: Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, Alain Gomis’ Felicite, Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, Nan & Simon’s My Happy Family, Ildiko Enyedi’s On Body and Soul, Aki Kurismaki’s The Other Side of Hope, Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye, Benedict Andrews’ Una, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed, Shahrbanoo Sadat’s Wolf and Sheep, and Warwick Thornton’s aforementioned We Don’t Need a Map.

Interestingly, Coppola’s mother, Eleanor, also has a film in the program, having made her feature directing debut at 80 with Paris Can Wait. This marks the first time a mother and daughter have both had films in the festival.

The documentary field has taken a particular focus on the oceans this year, it seems, with two notable feature docs on the state of the world’s seas screening: Karina Holden’s Blue, and Jeff Orlowski’s Chasing Coral. Activist and actress Vanessa Redgrave brings her debut directorial effort, Sea Sorrow, a look at the refugee crisis, while the team behind Citizenfour give us Risk, a look at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that was rather controversially re-edited following its Cannes bow into a form more critical of Assange. Also of note is Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, an examination of the role Indigenous Americans have played in popular music over the years, which screens as part of the Focus on Canada section.

Chasing Coral

Australian Indigenous screen works are the subject of the First Nations program, where the most high profile offering is the first two episodes of the second season of Cleverman, the hit sci-fi/fantasy series starring Hunter-Page Lochard.

And that’s barely scratching the surface – how fitting considering this year’s motto, “From Every Angle”. As festival curator Moodley noted at the launch, this year’s SFF has brought together “…hundreds of films from across the world to one place…opening a window to people and places you might not otherwise experience.”

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


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