The 61st Sydney Film Festival is proud to announce this year’s Official Competition Jury, featuring Australian filmmaker Rachel Perkins as Jury President, film critic Shelly Kraicer (Canada), producer OH Jung-wan (South Korea), director Khalo Matabane (South Africa) and actor Rachael Blake (Australia).
The internationally recognised SFF Official Competition, now in its seventh year, awards a $60,000 cash prize in recognition of the most courageous, audacious and cutting-edge film from the 12 features selected. The winning film is announced on Sunday 15 June.
“The Official Competition selection celebrates film that pushes the boundaries of the art form,” said SFF Festival Director Nashen Moodley. “This year's selection offers some true surprises, and I look forward to the audience reactions to these amazing films.”
The Jury members for the SFF 2014 Official Competition:
The 2014 Jury President Rachel Perkins is also the director of Black Panther Woman, competing for SFF’s Documentary Australia Foundation Award. Rachel’s filmmaking work spans documentary, TV drama series, telemovies and feature films. She recently directed the multiple-award-winning series Redfern Now as well as the telemovie Mabo which premiered at SFF 2012. Her feature-directorial work includes the musical hit Bran Nue Dae, One Night the Moon and Radiance (SFF 1998), which screened at Berlin, Sundance and many other international festivals. In 2009 she completed the landmark documentary series First Australians. Other documentary work includes the series Blood Brothers and From Spirit to Spirit. She is currently engaged in the development of multiple TV drama and factual projects through her production company Blackfella Films, one of Australia’s leading content creators, which she co-founded in 1992. Rachel lives between Sydney and Alice Springs, the traditional lands of her people, the Arrernte Nation.
“Sydney Film Festival will always be special to me,” said SFF Jury President Rachel Perkins. “I screened the first movie I directed at the Festival almost 20 years ago and I can still remember the terror of watching the film in front of its first real audience. Anyone who even completes a movie deserves an award in my view, as they are so challenging to deliver, let alone make great. At SFF we are lucky to have the greatest cinema of the moment from around the world, distilled for us into a dazzling program by Nashen Moodley and his team. How on earth my fellow jurors and I will decide who gets the prize is yet to be seen, but I am looking forward to the challenge!”
Shelly Kraicer is the guest programmer of the SFF 2014 China: Rebels, Ghosts and Romantics program strand. A Beijing-based writer, critic and film curator, he has written for magazines and journals including Cinema Scope, Positions, Cineaste, Village Voice and Screen International. Since 2007, Kraicer has been a programmer at the Vancouver International Film Festival and has worked as a consultant for the Venice, Udine, Dubai, and Rotterdam film festivals. Shelly has written numerous articles on Chinese cinema, including a two part review on 100 years of Chinese cinema for the Village Voice, and interviews with Johnnie To, Wai Kai-fai, Tsai Ming-liang and Edward Yang.
OH Jung-wan (South Korea) is the chief producer and founder of BOM Film Productions, known for its producer-based production system and creative marketing strategies. OH Jung-wan has focused on producing accomplished feature films with a unique style that challenges the conventional ideas of cinema. Her filmography includes the award-winning box office successes My Dear Enemy, Come Rain, Come Shine, A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, Untold Scandal, Foul King and many more.
Khalo Matabane (South Africa) is the multi-award-winning director of numerous feature-length documentaries, drama series, campaigns and commercials. His feature film Nelson Mandela, the Myth and Me (SFF 2014) won the 2013 Special Jury Prize at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. He completed his first dramatic feature film, State of Violence in 2010, and his work has been screened in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Matabane has a passion for narrative storytelling, working with scripts that challenge the society we live in and creating challenging roles for his actors. With his latest film, Khalo Matabane sees his quest to make sense of current South African and global politics with the opinions of people who have known Mandela, or whose perspectives and destinies have in some way been shaped by him.
Rachael Blake (Australia) is currently in production on Alex Proyas’ Gods of Egypt alongside Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gerard Butler. Blake has recently completed production on the independent feature film Melody and will next be seen in Stephen Lance’s upcoming feature, My Mistress. Her other feature credits include Paws, Alkinos Tsilimidos’ Tom White, Ray Lawrence’s Lantana, Derailed with Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston, Kenneth Glenaan’s Summer, Daniel Young’s Pinprick, Cherry Tree Lane, Gaylene Preston’s Perfect Strangers, and most recently Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (SFF 2011). She has appeared in some of Australia’s most popular television series including Wildside, Water Rats, Home and Away, Heartbreak High, The Straits and Grass Roots. Her other television credits include Pacific Drive, Nowhere to Land, The Three Stooges, Auf Wiedersehen, Clapham Junction, Suburban Shootout, Inspector Lewis, False Witness, The Prisoner, Network Ten’s telemovie Hawke, and the ABC/HBO co-production Serangoon Road. Rachael was awarded the Centenary Medal for her services to the Australian Film Industry. She has also received numerous awards and nominations for her film and television work.
Rachel Perkins is the seventh Jury President of the Official Competition, following Australian actor Hugo Weaving (2013), Australian filmmaker Rachel Ward (2012), Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige (2011), Australian producer Jan Chapman (2010) and Australian filmmakers Rolf de Heer (2009) and Gillian Armstrong (2008).
The previous Sydney Film Prize winners are Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013), Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2012); A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, 2011), which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan, 2010); Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009) and Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008). Winners of the SFF Official Competition take home a $60,000 cash prize as well as international recognition.
Each Jury Member for 2014 will receive an exquisite timepiece from our generous watch partner Philip Stein.
SFF also presents a number of awards to recognise excellence in local filmmaking, including the Documentary Australia Foundation Prize for Australian Documentary, the long-running Dendy Awards for Australian Short Films (which are Academy Award-eligible) and, new this year, the Event Cinemas Australian Short Screenplay Award.
The selection of films in Competition for the 2014 Sydney Film Prize are:
20,000 Days on Earth
Directors: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard | Screenwriters: Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, Nick Cave | Producers: James Wilson, Dan Bowen | Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Drama and reality collide in this extraordinary portrait of musician and cultural icon Nick Cave. Artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard take a fascinating approach in this visually astonishing and highly stylised imagination of Cave’s 20,000th day on earth, all set to a sparkling narration by Cave himself. Through his visits to his archive, and a long and revealing session with his therapist, a picture of the artist, his origins, and his creative process is beautifully drawn. The filmmakers also follow Cave into the studio as he writes and records his hit album Push the Sky Away. Along the way, we witness fascinating and humorous conversations between Cave and his friends and collaborators like Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone, Blixa Bargeld and Warren Ellis. Capturing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds live at the Sydney Opera House helps reveal the massive impact Cave has and the deep devotion he inspires. Imaginative, intimate, daring and defying easy categorisation, 20,000 Days On Earth is not just a scintillating portrait of a visionary artist, but a tremendous work of art in itself.
Black Coal, Thin Ice
Director, Screenwriter: Diao Yinan | Producers: Qu Vivian, Wan Juan, Shen Yang, Zhang Dajun | Cast: Liao Fan, Gwei Lun Mei, Wang Xuebing | World Sales: Fortissimo Films
Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, this film noir is a stylish and exhilarating look at a police investigation in contemporary China. Following a mysterious killing in a small town in the industrial north, a police investigation uncovers multiple suspects but the case ends in tatters when police officers are killed and wounded in the course of the investigation. Forced to retire, injured officer Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) takes on a demeaning job as a security guard and drowns his sorrows. Years later, a series of uncannily similar murders come to light, and Zhang sets about solving the mystery which is centred around a beautiful woman. Director Diao Yinan has cited John Huston, David Lynch and the Coen Brothers as influences on the film, and this paired with a gritty Chinese milieu makes for a potent combination. With astonishing set-pieces at the start and the end of the film, and a complex performance from Liao, which earned him the Best Actor prize in Berlin, Black Coal, Thin Ice is both powerful and memorable.
Director, Screenwriter: Richard Linklater | Producers: Cathleen Sutherland, Richard Linklater | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater | Distributor: Universal Pictures International Australasia
Richard Linklater, one of cinema’s most humane filmmakers, made this masterful film over short periods from 2002 to 2013. This ground-breaking cinematic experience earned him the Silver Bear for best director at Berlin, and covers 12 years in the life of an American family. We meet Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as a typical seven-year-old, then watch his transition to adulthood. While young Mason is the focus, Boyhood also portrays the lives of those closest to him: his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette). We experience their joys and missteps, the relationships formed and lost, encompassing much of what all families go through. Using the same actors over so many years gives the film a rare authenticity, and while Hawke and Arquette are both perfect, they are matched with lovely performances by the young actors. Boyhood has many achievements, but chief amongst those is the level of care you feel for its characters. It’s a singular film that will be watched and admired for years to come.
Director: Kasimir Burgess | Screenwriter: Natasha Pincus | Producers: John Maynard, Mary Minas | Cast: Matt Nable, Dan Henshall | Production Company: Felix Media
This stunning debut by Australian director Kasimir Burgess is an entrancing and enigmatic drama – a dreamlike, visually resplendent tale of nature, revenge and redemption. While camping, Thomas’ only daughter, Lara, is killed by a logging truck in a hit-and-run accident. The driver, Luke, goes to prison. Stricken with grief, Thomas sheds his urban life and his identity, moving to the remote town where Lara was killed. There he takes a new name, Chris, and finds work as a logger. When Luke is released and returns to work, Chris connives to be his partner in dangerously high tree-logging work. Every time Luke climbs, Chris holds his life in his hands. Burgess expertly ratchets up tension as the two damaged men grow closer through an affinity for nature. The forest is as important a character, exerting a strange power over them. Actors Matthew Nable and Daniel Henshall are superb, delicately conveying emotion and subtly embodying the unsettling atmosphere. Fell marks the emergence of a distinctive new voice in Australian film.
Fish & Cat
Director, Screenwriter: Shahram Mokri | Producer: Sepehr Seyfi | Cast: Babak Karimi, Saeed Ebrahimifar, Abed Abest | World Sales: Iranian Independents
It’s unlikely you’ll see another film like Shahram Mokri’s Fish & Cat. Coupling a phenomenal single-shot approach with a bizarre story and a sick sense of humour, this Iranian film is as unnerving as it is technically impressive. The plot’s bare bones – based on a news account about a roadside diner that served human flesh – suggest a slasher film. So does the setting: a lakeside camp where university hipsters from Tehran are stalked by a pair of creepy cooks with a penchant for knives. But Fish & Cat contains little violence, and endlessly plays with expectations. We get to know the characters and their backstories while suspense is stretched over the course of the film’s spectacular single shot. That shot is beautifully executed by Mahmud Kalari, who also shot the Sydney Film Prize-winning A Separation (SFF 2011). Despite what seems a linear real-time approach, flashbacks, dreams and nightmarish surrealism are incorporated in a style reminiscent of David Lynch. Fish & Cat is both rewarding and disturbing.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Director: David Zellner | Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner | Producers: Nathan Zellner, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Andrew Banks, Jim Burke | Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Kanako Higashi | Distributor: Palace Films
Inspired by true events, this psychological adventure from the Zellner Brothers and executive produced by Alexander Payne, is a whimsical story of a lonely Japanese woman determined to find a mythical fortune. With only her beloved pet rabbit Bunzo to confide in, twentysomething Kumiko (Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi, Babel, Norwegian Wood, SFF 2011) lives a solitary life in Tokyo. A dead-end job, a demeaning boss and a nagging mother add to her isolation. Her escape plan lies in an unlikely place – an old VHS tape of the film Fargo. Convinced that the satchel of money in the film is really still buried in the Midwestern wilderness, and armed with a hand-sewn map, Kumiko is determined to make the trip to Minnesota to claim her prize and fulfill her destiny. It’s a convincing and moving fable, both charming and heartbreaking, with an astonishing central performance by Kikuchi and a lovely supporting cast that includes the Zellners. This is a film about obsession with cinema, about psychological vulnerability, and about how fantasy can sometimes be more appealing than reality.
Director, Screenwriter: Steven Knight | Producers: Paul Webster, Guy Heeley | Cast: Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman | Distributor: Madman Entertainment
A daring and very successful, cinematic experiment, Locke removes virtually all of the frills of modern cinema. Shot in real time, with a minimalist setup, a very fine script and a tremendous performance by Tom Hardy, Locke is utterly mesmerising. Hardy is Ivan Locke, a man who would appear to lead a good life. He’s at the top of his game professionally, and is happily married with children. But on the eve of a huge day for his career, things are about to fall apart. Driving his car in a rush to his destination, Locke must deal with a series of crises all descending upon him at the same time, with just a speakerphone to aid him. Steven Knight (the writer of Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, and writer-director of Redemption) directs with a confidence matching his scintillating screenplay. Visually too, Locke is extraordinary even if it is limited to a man in a car and its surrounds. Truly surprising and emotionally resonant, Locke shows that when the simplest elements are executed perfectly it can lead to a complex, engaging and unforgettable film.
Director, Screenwriter, Producer: Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Michael Cody | Cast: Sang Malen, Ros Mony | Distributor: Madman Entertainment
In the stunning follow up to Hail (SFF 2011), Australian co-directors Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody deliver a visually breathtaking, impressionistic tale of love and violence. Phirun and Sovanna are two Cambodians who live troubled lives. Sovanna works as a prostitute and suffers under a sadistic pimp, while Phirun is a factory worker who tires of the abuse. Each can take it no longer and, magnetically drawn together, they are forced to flee the city. They take to the jungle where along with growing love, they face burgeoning chaos. The journey brings its own traumas, and Phirun and Sovanna must deal with a present as perilous and violent as their pasts. Largely improvised, and structurally daring, Ruin creates a dreamlike atmosphere, and is set to an unforgettable score that perfectly augments the hypnotic images. The winner of the Orizzonti Special Jury Prize at Venice, Ruin confirms Cody and Courtin-Wilson as filmmakers who achieve visceral and stunning cinema in a risky and original way.
Snowpiercer Director: Bong Joon-ho | Screenwriters: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson | Producers: Park Chan-wook, Lee Tae-hun, Park Tae-jun, Robert Bernacchi, David Minkowski, Matthew Stillman | Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton | Distributor: Roadshow Films
In the near future, an experiment to halt global warming has gone horribly wrong, freezing the world over and killing virtually all life. Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s new sci-fi thriller is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, brought to life by a stellar cast including Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Octavia Spencer. Bong is known for fusing genre elements with social critique in films like Memories of Murder (SFF 2004), The Host and Mother. His first English-language film is his most ambitious and overtly political. Earth’s sole survivors live on the Snowpiercer, a train that perpetually circumnavigates the planet. The rich live in splendour at the front of the train, while the poor live in squalor at the back. Years into the journey, those at the back plot a rebellion. But the journey to the front is long and filled with danger. With spectacular visuals and effects, the film has an epic Hollywood quality, but adds complex characters and a quirky humour that makes it Bong’s own.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq
Director, Screenwriter: Guillaume Nicloux | Producers: Sylvie Pialat, Marco Cherqui | Cast: Michel Houllebecq, Luc Schwarz, Mathieu Nicourt
In September 2011 the controversial French author Michel Houellebecq, who created an international literary stir with his novels Whatever, Atomised and Platform, disappeared. After failing to show up for his latest book tour, there was intense speculation as to his whereabouts – with some theories even involving Al-Qaeda abducting him. The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq offers a fantastical imagining of what happened during his disappearance, made all the more fascinating and bizarre because the notorious author plays himself in the film. Spirited away by a bunch of tough guys and taken to a compound outside Paris, this is no ordinary kidnapping. Michel enjoys his captivity, indulging in copious amounts of booze and cigarettes. There is time too for philosophical discussions with his kidnappers around subjects ranging from literature to politics to Viagra to Mixed Martial Arts. All the while the question remains: just who is going to pay the ransom? Houellebecq delivers a great performance, channelling obnoxiousness and vulnerability in equal measure. The result is a smart, unsettling and hilarious fiction/reality hybrid.
Director, Screenwriter: David Michôd | Producers: Liz Watts, David Linde, David Michôd | Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy | Distributor: Roadshow Films
In 2010 David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and established Michôd as one of the most promising new filmmakers in world cinema. His much-anticipated second feature, a Cannes Official Selection, is an uncompromising, dark thriller with elements of a western, fulfilling all the promise of his debut. Set in a dangerous near-future, 10 years after the collapse of the economic system, The Rover depicts an Australia without law or order. The country’s natural resources have attracted a range of opportunists, and life is cheap. When Eric (Guy Pearce) has his car stolen, he embarks on a ruthless mission to track down the thieves. He soon forms an unlikely partnership with Rey (Robert Pattinson), the naïve younger brother of gang member Henry (Scoot McNairy) who has left Rey behind in the bloody aftermath of a robbery. Gripping and terrifying, The Rover’s power lies in its strong relation to reality. Says Michôd: “I want The Rover to feel like an entirely conceivable world of the very near future, a world despoiled by very real forces and systems at work all around us today.”
Two Days, One Night
Directors, Screenwriters: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne | Producers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Salée, Fabrizio Rongione | Distributor: Madman Entertainment
The Dardenne brothers are amongst that select company who have won the Palme d’Or twice: for Rosetta (1999) and The Child (2005). They return to Competition at Cannes with their latest. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, The Dark Knight Rises) is wonderful as Sandra, a woman in a precarious position. Her employer at a factory has given her colleagues a stark choice – to either receive a bonus or have Sandra return to work after a leave of absence. An initial ballot is not promising. The employer agrees to another vote, leaving Sandra one weekend to convince her colleagues to let her keep her job. Sandra visits them one by one to make her case. With this intriguing premise, the Dardennes fashion a very special film. Without resorting to sentiment, the film is filled with emotion. Every interaction is so rich with possibility you can imagine each of these working-class characters inspiring a film of their own. Two Days, One Night is gentle in tone but provocative in spirit.
SFF 2014 festival guests from the Official Competition include: Directors Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard (20,000 Days on Earth); Director Diao Yinan (Black Coal, Thin Ice); Producer Cathleen Sutherland and actor Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood); Director Kasimir Burgess, Producers John Maynard and Mary Minas Cast Dan Henshall and Matt Nable (Fell); Director Shahram Mokri (Fish & Cat); Director David Zellner (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter); Producer Guy Heeley (Locke); Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson Cast Malen Sang and Mony Ros (Ruin) and Director David Michôd, Producer Liz Watts, and cast Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (The Rover).
The 61st Sydney Film Festival runs 4-15 June 2014 and brings a packed program of screenings and special events to even more venues across Sydney. For tickets and full up-to-date program information please visit sff.org.au
ABOUT SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL
Sydney Film Festival screens feature films, documentaries, short films and animated films across the city at the State Theatre, Event Cinemas George Street, Dendy Opera Quays, the Art Gallery of NSW, Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne, the Apple Store, SFFTV at Martin Place, Skyline Drive-In Blacktown, and the Festival Hub at Town Hall.
The Festival is a major event on the New South Wales cultural calendar and is one of the world’s longest-running film festivals. For more information visit www.sff.org.au
Sydney Film Festival also presents 12 films that vie for the Official Competition, a highly respected international honour that awards a $60,000 cash prize based on the decision of a jury of international and Australian filmmakers and industry professionals. Previous Sydney Film Prize winners include: Only God Forgives (2013), Alps (2012), A Separation (2011) – which went on to win an Academy Award, Heartbeats (2010), Bronson (2009) and Hunger (2008).
The 61st Sydney Film Festival is supported by the NSW Government through Screen NSW, the Federal Government through Screen Australia, and the City of Sydney. The Festival’s Strategic partner is the NSW Government through Destination NSW.
What: Sydney Film Festival
When: 4-15 June, 2014
Tickets & Info: 1300 733 733 sff.org.au