The CEO Magazine was there for this year's program launch of the 66th instalment of the Sydney Film Festival. A range of world premieres highlight a typically diverse suite of films.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on May 1, 2019

In the words of Sydney Film Festival Chair Deanne Weir, the 2019 program is one to “entertain, inspire and infuriate”.

Festival Director Nashen Moodley covered some of the program highlights at the media launch, including hotly anticipated new releases from Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar and Jim Jarmusch as well as a wealth of international films and an intriguing list of documentaries.

Sydney Film Festival: 250+ films in an eclectic program

Among the highlights of the Official Competition program are two films screening directly after their Cannes debuts, Joon-ho Bong’s Parasite and Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. The latter sees the legendary Spanish director reunite with two of his acting muses, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

Also part of Official Competition are the Oscar-nominated Never Look Away, Hearts and Bones, directed by Ben Lawrence and starring Hugo Weaving, and Judy & Punch, a “feminist revenge tale” featuring Australians Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman.

The satirical God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya will also compete for the title of the year’s most “audacious, cutting edge and courageous” film. It is the first film from Macedonia to be part of the Official Competition.

Still from 'Punch & Judy', screening at the Sydney Film Festival
Above: Mia Wasikowska in Punch & Judy

Special Presentations at the State Theatre

For Moodley, watching films in the Sydney’s elegant State Theatre is the “ultimate Sydney Film Festival experience” and this year’s program at the venue offers to live up to the grand locale. It includes The Final Quarter, a documentary on AFL footballer Adam Goods’ decision to confront the racism he faced and the heated public debate that followed, a Michael Hutchence doco from Richard Lowenstein (Mystify: Michael Hutchence) and Scorsese’s epic look at the 1975 Rolling Thunder tour (Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese).

Robert Pattinson’s progression from teen heart-throb to arthouse staple will continue in Claire Denis’ High Life, while a trailer for Jim Jarmusch’s zom-com The Dead Don’t Die promises “the greatest zombie cast ever dissembled” – Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Selena Gomez among them. It had the audience at the launch in stitches.

Less laughs are presumably on offer in The Brink, a highly acclaimed and reportedly “jaw-dropping” documentary on former Trump confidante Steve Bannon. Moodley calls it an “enraging and engaging” look at one of the most influential political powerbrokers in the world.

Sydney Film Festival
Above: Still from Blinded by the Light

Sydney Film Festival moving towards gender equity in its programming

Another trailer to make an instant impact was Blinded By the Light, which follows a young British-Pakistani man whose life is changed when he discovers the musical magic of Bruce Springsteen. It looks very much a crowd-pleaser in the mould of director Gurinder Chadha’s massive 2002 hit Bend it Like Beckham.

Chada is just one of scores of women directors featured this year; there is also the final film of iconic filmmaker Agnès Varda plus a retrospective of her work, a special program of European women directors and David Stratton’s celebration of films by Australian women.

The Sydney Film Festival has also entered into the 50x50x2020 pledge for Gender Parity and has made strides towards this goal; this year, 43% of the festival films across all the program strands will be directed by women.

In Moodley’s telling, it’s an eclectic and humanist collection of films tailor-made for fractious times. “These films together make a strong argument for equality and empathy,” he said.

Header image: Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory. Image credits: Sydney Film Festival