“As soon as we made the very difficult, but inevitable, decision to cancel this year’s Sydney Film Festival in cinemas, it was difficult to see any kind of festival happening in 2020,” Sydney Film Festival director, Nashen Moodley, tells FilmInk. “What we were determined to do was, even in the absence of the festival in the usual sense, maintain the connection with our loyal and enthusiastic audience, and support filmmakers and the film industry. It took a great deal of discussion, research and negotiation to embark on a Virtual Edition of the festival.”
That has, however, come to fruition, with details of the virtual festival, along with its programme of films, being released today. In line with previous festivals, this year’s online edition will also take place in mid-June, running from the 10th through to the 27th. The festival will function much like a PVOD (Premium Video On Demand) service. As you do with the likes of Telstra TV, Fetch, Google Play, YouTube and so on, you will be able to rent (for varying fees, and as part of several programme stream packages) curated titles from the Sydney Film Festival website, and then watch them at home on a variety of devices. It’s a fairly straightforward process for those unfamiliar with PVOD (a format that many, however, have gotten used to in the wake of COVID-19 cinema closures), and there are several help guides available on the Sydney Film Festival website to get you through the process.
So, what of the programme itself? Not surprisingly, with much of the global film community on hold, there is a distinct lack of big, show-stopping titles in this year’s virtual edition. There is still, however, a literal plethora of films to get any movie lover excited. There are documentaries on indigenous Australia (Our Law, The Skin Of Others), the effects of climate change (The Weather Diaries), strong and fascinating women (Morgana, Women Of Steel, Descent, The Leadership, Rosemary’s Way, Lessons Of Love), cultural difference (A Hundred Years Of Happiness, They Call Me Babu) and the effects of art and culture (A Year Full Of Drama).
There are also a number of highly intriguing feature films on offer: starring Connie Nielsen and Dougray Scott, Sea Fever is a sci-fi thriller about a dangerous parasitic creature wreaking havoc on an isolated sea trawler; Force Of Habit is a Finnish feminist anthology made by an entirely-female production team; Charter is the emotionally charged new drama from director Amanda Kernell (Sami Blood); Germany’s Kids Run follows a down-on-his-luck young father who enters an amateur boxing match to make money for his family; Zana tackles the fraught issue of PTSD; and My Little Sister explores the complexities of brother-sister relationships. There will also be plenty of short films from around the world, along with the Screenability stream, which features shorts about those living with disability.
The online iteration of The Sydney Film Festival, however, doesn’t end there. Along with the curated film package, there will be online panel discussions and filmmaker Q&As. The SFF will also be teaming up with The Tribeca Film Festival, YouTube and various other global fests (including Berlin, Cannes and Sundance) for We Are One: A Global Film Festival, which will run for ten days from May 29. Programming will be for free, and will include docos, shorts, features, music and comedy, as well as Q&As and discussion panels. The Sydney Film Festival will also be offering up a selection of its finest past films for streaming on SBS On Demand. From June 10-July 10, forty features and docos will be available for free, along with reviews and filmmaker interviews. And finally, the new initiative Reverse Shot takes a walk back through the fest’s archives to revisit filmmaker talks, topical panels and compelling Q&As.
Yes, of course, we’ll miss those frosty mid-winter trips into The State Theatre and the various other venues around Sydney, but Nashen Moodley and his team at The Sydney Film Festival have done an incredible job in pivoting so quickly and organising what looks to be a strong collection of films for everyone’s online consumption. And there is, obviously, one large plus to come from this online iteration of The Sydney Film Festival. “We hope that many people who have been unable to attend Sydney Film Festival in the past will be able to engage with the films and the filmmakers that we will present,” Moodley says. Here’s your chance, folks…