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:: Spotlight :: 2007 Sydney Film Festival

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Clare Stewart, the Executive Director of the 2007 Sydney Film Festival, recently revealed an enticing program for 2007, which sees the festival growing in size with an increased number of films, talks and forums, a much wider representation of countries and languages and a packed selection of Australian and international premieres. The scope of the festival has broadened, with a selection of kids movies and films by or about people with a disability, and the party factor will increase with a range of live events, talks and shows at the Metro Theatre.

With 290 films screening over 17 days, from 54 different countries including Brazil, Turkey, Iceland, South Africa, Malaysia and Romania, Sydney audiences will have a fantastic choice during the festival, which runs from June 8-24, 2007. Sessions have been extended to include screenings on the final weekend of the festival at Dendy Opera Quays and GU George Street Cinemas, as well as the State Theatre. With 28% more sessions than 2006, the festival will host 90 Australian premieres and screen 65 Australian films.

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The program of the 54th Sydney Film Festival was revealed and audiences can choose from a range of 290 films, including 113 features, 86 documentaries and 91 shorts, as well as an enticing mixture of live events, filmmaker forums, international guests and red carpet premieres.

The Australian premiere of the highly anticipated La Vie en Rose will open the festival on June 8. Directed by Olivier Dahan, La Vie en Rose is a wonderful rag to riches biopic of Edith Piaf, featuring a career defining performance from Marion Cotillard.

Another Australian premiere will close the festival on June 23 - Day Watch, directed by Timur Bekmambetov, is a high-octane thriller from Russia that will ensure the festival ends in spectacular style.

This year’s selection of AUSTRALIAN films tackle a wide range of contemporary issues. Feature films in the section include Tony Ayres’ The Home Song Stories, which includes a superb performance by festival guest Joan Chen and achieved critical acclaim at Berlin earlier this year and the highly anticipated West, Daniel Krige’s edgy drama set in Sydney’s western suburbs (featuring Khan Chittenden, Nathan Phillips and Gillian Alexy). Emma Lung stars in The Jammed, directed by Dee McLachlan, a gritty social thriller about human trafficking inspired by actual events and Lucky Miles is a comedy from first-time feature director Michael James Rowland which tackles one of Australia’s hottest topics - illegal immigration. Also topical is Cross Life directed by Claire McCarthy intertwining stories from the Kings Cross area of the city, whereas Corroboree shifts cinematic ground and is both a fitting tribute to theatre director Richard Wherrett and a cinematic experiment that echoes the interests of Guy Maddin and Lars von Trier.

The AUSTRALIAN section also boasts a strong selection of documentaries that explore many areas of the world, including subjects close to home. Temple Of Dreams is a timely documentary set in Sydney’s west which provides a different take on the Islamic community in Australia and Rachel: A Perfect Life, directed by Fiona Cochrane, is an immensely moving story of a NSW woman’s fight to control her epilepsy. The Fibros and the Silvertails starts out as a story of the feud between the Wests and Manly in the late 70s and turns into a film about class and corruption, portraying social history, sports history and political essay all rolled into one. Moving from sport to the arts - In The Company Of Actors follows the success of the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Hedda Gabler. The film is directed by Ian Darling and features festival patrons Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. Similarly inspiring is the documentary 4, directed by Tim Slade, which will sweep audiences away with fascinating characters, fine music and glorious images. Finally, actor Christopher Lee narrates the story of Tasmania’s swashbuckling export Errol Flynn in Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn.

Moving further afield, the AUSTRALIAN films also include Academy Award-winning filmmaker Bruce Petty’s brilliantly satiric Global Haywire, a wholly original film that features comment from people such as Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky. In Feet Unbound six survivors from the legendary Long March in China tell their extraordinary stories and The Siege is a powerful documentary about the infamous 1996 Lima siege, which saw more than 400 people taken hostage at the Japanese Ambassador Residence. In Our Name is the new film from 3-time Dendy Award winner Christopher Tuckfield, an evocative investigation of the use of torture and Bomb Harvest documents the work of Australian bomb disposal expert Laith Stevens in Laos.

ACCESSIBLE CINEMA brings powerful and inspiring films by or about people with a disability to Sydney. The eye-opening documentary Autism Every Day follows a day in the life of eight families with children who have autism and Blindsight, produced by festival guest Sybil Robson Orr, follows the awe-inspiring journey of six blind teenagers who climb Mount Everest. In the moving Hear And Now filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky’s parents decide to undergo cochlear implant surgery after 65 years in silence while Braindamajd’d…Take II follows filmmaker Paul Nadler’s amazing recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury.

For the first time, Sydney Film Festival is devoting a strand of the program to KIDS’ FILMS, created to give the young people of the city a chance to see some fantastic films from around the world. The first film to screen in the strand is the 1953 musical fantasy The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.T, the only film ever scripted by ‘Dr. Seuss’. Other highlights include Dorm a ghost story (and winner of the Glass Bear for Best Children’s Feature Film at the Berlin Film Festival) from Thailand, Swedish feature Kidz in da Hood, French animation U and the enchanting Winky’s Horse. Sydney Film Festival is also delighted to present Pixar: 20 Years of Animated Shorts. Festival guest and Pixar character animator Gini Santos will introduce the Australian premiere of the Academy Award nominated short film Lifted, along with nine other short films from Pixar.

WORLD VIEWS offers a selection of more than 60 new titles from across the globe. Highlights include 12:08 East Of Bucharest (Romania) the winner of the Golden Camera at Cannes and After The Wedding (Denmark), which received an Academy Award© nomination for Best Foreign Language film and features a knockout performance by Mads Mikkelsen. Also included is the hilarious Black Sheep (New Zealand) which already looks set for cult status and Away From Her (Canada) the directorial debut from respected Canadian actress Sarah Polley, starring Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent and Olympia Dukakis. David MacKenzie follows Young Adam with Hallam Foe (Scotland), starring Jamie Bell and Clare Forlani, and festival guest, screenwriter and director Jeff Nichols, presents his first feature Shotgun Stories. Bella (USA), directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde, won the Audience Award at Toronto and the stripped back and minimal approach of Beaufort (Israel) ensured Joseph Cedar the Best Director Award at this year’s Berlinale. The Walker (USA), directed by Paul Schrader, has a strong ensemble cast including Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin and Kristin Scott Thomas. Also featuring a stellar cast is writer-director Craig Brewer’s anticipated Black Snake Moan (USA), starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci and Justin Timberlake.

WORLD VIEWS also features Spanish thriller Me. Lead actor Alex Brendemühl and the director Rafa Cortés are both guests of the festival and the film will also screen as part of Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Screenwriter Wahid Hamed will be in Sydney with Yacoubian Building (Egypt), an epic tale of a famous Cairo building and its residents. Further highlights include the exuberant Hana from Japan and the perfectly formed The Last Dining Table from Korea.

The deeply evocative films in TURKISH POETS reflect the rich complexities and profound contradictions of contemporary Turkey. Echoing the literary poetics of Nobel prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, are awardwinning films such as Climates, Takva – A Man’s Fear of God and Times and Winds. Other films screening in this section include feature film Riza, documentaries To Make An Example Of and Housekeeper along with select short films.

STORIES FROM BRAZIL showcases an eclectic mix of stories and the renewed energy of Brazilian cinema. Highlights include the sassy and streetwise Antonia which follows four girlfriends splitting from their roles as backup singers and starting their own R&B and Brazilian hip-hop group; the visually and aurally arresting Cattle Callers explores ‘aboio’ – a singing style invented by Brazilian cowboys; Suely In The Sky which centres on an impoverished, but full-of-life character determined to change her fate. Also included in STORIES FROM BRAZIL is the double bill Mapping Brazil which features São Paolo_CityTellers which documents the survival tactics of a few of the city’s 18 million residents and Accident which captures the rhythms of daily life across 20 cities and towns in south-east Brazil.

NEW CROWNED HOPE comprises of a daring collection of films - Dry Season, Half Moon, Opera Jawa, Paraguayan Hammock, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone, and Syndromes And A Century. Mozart’s Visionary Cinema: New Crowned Hope was commissioned by Peter Sellars, the Artistic Director of Vienna’s New Crowned Hope Festival, in partnership with Illumination Films to celebrate Mozart’s 250th anniversary. Each film responds to the dominant themes of Mozart’s final works – magic transformation, forgiveness and reconciliation and recognition of the dead.

EMERGING TALENT focuses on festival guest and award-winning Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold who wowed critics and audiences at this year’s Berlinale with Wolfsbergen (2007). Leopold’s previous two features Guernsey (2005), which was selected for Directors Fortnight at Cannes and Îles Flottantes (2001) screen along with Leopold’s graduation short Weekend, demonstrating the developing talent of a rising star.

SOUNDS ON SCREEN brings an exciting selection of music documentaries, live events, screenings, shows, parties and dance lessons to the Sydney Film Festival – with live events taking place at the Metro Theatre, a first for Sydney Film Festival. Amongst the many highlights in SOUNDS ON SCREEN is the Australian premiere of Control, the dramatic feature of the late Ian Curtis, starring Samantha Morton, which has just been selected to open Directors Fortnight at Cannes 2007 and Shut Up and Sing which follows The Dixie Chicks through the media onslaught and radio boycotts that followed their open criticism of George W Bush in 2003. The evocative Words From the City explores the energetic and vibrant culture of Australian hip-hop and after the screening, audiences can join the filmmakers and artists featured in the film for the official after party and show at the Metro Theatre. The festival is also delighted to present Kurt Cobain About a Son, the intimate portrait of Nirvana’s lead singer which draws upon a series of audio-taped conversations between Cobain and music writer Michael Azerrad and gives a palpable sense of the strange and disruptive force upon Cobain of Nirvana’s sudden success. Another music legend, Scott Walker, is the focus of Scott Walker – 30 Century Man, a documentary featuring David Bowie, Radiohead and Damon Albarn. The festival also premieres two new installments in the Great Australian Albums series, Silverchair’s Diorama (described by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘one of the boldest musical statements ever made by an Australian rock band’) and The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional. Planet B-Boy documents the global resurgence in break-dancing and follows the b-boy world championships. The film’s director Benson Lee and some local b-boys will host Break Out at the Metro Theatre, giving Sydney the chance to show off its own b-boy skills. To coincide with the Powerhouse Museum’s Cinema India exhibition, Sydney Film Festival is hosting a night of Bollywood dance and lessons, featuring the latest Bollywood tracks and the hottest mixes and dhol drumming from DJ Richi Madan.

In DIGITAL INNOVATORS, Sydney Film Festival explores the cutting edge of technology through a series of forums, digital shorts and features that explore the possibilities of the digital age. The festival is thrilled to have leading Pixar animator Gini Santos give a behind-the-scenes look at the production process of Pixar and a personal insight into the world of digital creation. Australia’s Animal Logic celebrate Happy Feet’s recent Academy Award win and The Animal Logic Behind Happy Feet is a rare opportunity to meet the team behind the film. Another highlight is Academy which compresses each winner of the Academy Award© for best film over the last 75 years and then shows them back-to-back in a magnificent play with memory and history.

PROVOCATEUR brings some of cinema’s most challenging films and filmmakers to the screens of Sydney. The festival presents the Australian premiere of Inland Empire, the new film from master provocateur David Lynch, starring Laura Dern and Jeremy Irons. Boxing Day is an Australian feature that calls upon the Danish dogme approach and Swedish provocateur Lukas Moodysson’s latest film, the down-and-dirty Container, will also be screened. Other titles in PROVOCATEUR include London to Brighton and Taxidermia.

Sydney Film Festival has established a reputation for bringing together a strong annual retrospective and this year the focus falls on the director, screenwriter and actor John Huston, in JOHN HUSTON — RACONTEUR. Huston directed almost 50 films (as well as performing in a similar number) and Sydney Film Festival is delighted to present a number of Huston classics – The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Asphalt Jungle, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Misfits, Fat City, The Life And Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Man Who Would Be King, Wise Blood, a new print of The Dead – along with war-time documentaries by Huston and a documentary about the making of The Dead.

In REVIVALS AND RESTORATIONS Sydney Film Festival pays A Tribute to Norman McLaren which gives audiences the chance to revel in a selection of 11 restored short films from the acclaimed animator. Also featured is Blockade where Russian director Sergei Loznitsa trawls through newsreels of the Leningrad siege from September 1941 to January 1944 looking for evidence of everyday civilian life amongst all the military action. Killer Of Sheep (1977) an African—American classic was theatrically released for the first time earlier this year in the USA to extraordinary acclaim, and can now be seen in restored 35mm in Sydney. The film follows a sensitive man working in a slaughterhouse, grappling with poverty, family demands and the allure of violence. Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1985) stimulated the New Queer Cinema of the early 90s and the festival is delighted to give Sydney audiences the opportunity to see it again.

RED HOT DOCS features 33 creative, topical, innovative and stimulating documentaries from around the world. Director Les Blank will visit the festival with his documentary All in This Tea (USA), which gives a fascinating insight into your daily cuppa. Winner of this year’s Academy Award© Documentary Short The Blood Of Yingzhou District (China) follows children orphaned by AIDS, many of whom suffer from HIV themselves. Deep Water (UK), an evocative account of the first non-stop single-handed round the world sailing race, is superbly enhanced by compelling footage and slick production values and in Forever (The Netherlands) director Heddy Honingmann interviews visitors to the famous Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris in a film about the power of art, beauty and memory in our lives. Winner of the Grand Prix Prize at Sundance and the Silver Wolf Award at IDFA, Enemies Of Happiness (Denmark) celebrates the tenacity and courage of an Afghani woman as she attempts to reform her country’s attitude to women and democracy.

Filmmaker Nina Davenport was invited by Liev Schreiber to film the experiences of Muthana, a young Iraqi man who worked as an intern on the set of Everything is Illuminated. What started out as a feel-good making-of evolved into the documentary Operation Filmmaker (USA) as Muthana’s experience became more complex than could have been anticipated. In Zoo (USA) director Robinson Devor focuses on how we deal with perversity in others, in an intense film which has also been selected to screen in Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Also featuring in RED HOT DOCS is The Consultation (France), which successfully uses the stillness of the room and the formality of the doctor-patient relationship to convey the gravity and tension of the moment. Another highlight is the Teddy Award winner for Best Documentary at the 2007 Berlinale, A Walk In The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory (USA). The film attempts to uncover what happened to Warhol’s lighting designer, lover and promising filmmaker Danny Williams when he disappeared in 1966.

The Sydney Film Festival, 8-24 June 2007, screens feature films, documentaries, short films and animations across the city at the State Theatre, GU George Street Cinemas, Metro Theatre and Dendy Opera Quays. Tickets and flexipasses are now on sale and are available from Ticketmaster on 136 100. For further information on this year's program, as well as up to the minute festival news, visit here

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