'High Ground'.

As cinemas across the country do it tough, Sydney Film Festival’s Traveling Film Festival has partnered with Independent Cinemas Australia (ICA) to present two curated programs of features and shorts designed to drive audiences back to local theatres.

Supported by Screen Australia, the initiative dubbed ‘My Cinema My Film Festival’ will run in 19 cinemas in metro and regional NSW, Queensland, WA, SA and the ACT across November and December.

The first program showcases independent and arthouse features from Australia and overseas, and the second a selection of Australian short films and interview footage.

Among the highlights is Stephen Johnson’s High Ground, starring Simon Baker, Jack Thompson and Jacob Junior Nayinggul, which will be the opening night film in each regional cinema.

Written by Chris Anastassiades and produced by Bunya Productions’ Greer Simpkin and David Jowsey, Maggie Miles, Johnson and Yothu Yindi co-founder Witiyana Marika, the film earned raves when it premiered in Berlin’s Berlinale Special strand, scoring a US deal with Samuel Goldwyn Co. Due for a full release next year via Madman, the film has also recently played in the Brisbane and Adelaide festivals.

Overall the features program includes 11 films, among them Cannes Film Festival Un Certain Regard winner The Climb; Agnieszka Holland’s Charlatan; Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award-winner The Painter and the Thief, and local documentary Descent, which won the Documentary Australia Foundation prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

The shorts program includes four films: Anthea Williams’ Safety Net; Genevieve Clay-Smith’s Groundhog Night; Adam Bowes and Nina Oyama’s Diving In and Emily and Hannah Jordan’s Obscura.

Sydney Film Festival CEO Leigh Small said: “Sydney Film Festival and the Travelling Film Festival are proud to partner with ICA to bring an expertly curated selection of films to metropolitan and regional cinemas across Australia. 

“My Cinema My Film Festival, gives independent operators a chance to present a bespoke festival-worthy program of world-class and top Australian cinema to screen to their local audiences. 

“Australian cinemas everywhere have been struggling under the weight of COVID-19 factors such as lockdowns, reduced audience capacities, or access to films due to delayed and limited theatrical film releases globally. 

“This is one step we can take together to help bring audiences back to the cinemas responsibly, with outstanding films they are unlikely to see anywhere on streaming platforms,” she said. 

ICA president Scott Seddon said: “The current dysfunction of Hollywood sees Australian cinemas struggling for commercial titles but has opened the door for the ICA team to negotiate this amazing array of filmmaking brilliance to see on the big screen with the big sound where it belongs. 

“In the absence of tentpole films more and more of the titles on offer are aimed at the discerning moviegoer and this is a great opportunity for ICA member cinemas to relaunch to this segment of the market. 

“This will give this particular segment of patrons the reason they have been looking for to get out off the couch and into their COVID-safe cinemas. 

“I am optimistic that this might be the first of many years of the My Cinema My Film Festival.”

Dendy Cinemas/Icon Distribution head of marketing Eloi Mota said these initiatives were important to bring audiences back to cinemas.

“We’re providing a COVID safe environment and our customers are eager to return to the cinema experience, but we’re facing ongoing challenges with a lack of content. Studios are pushing their content out to 2021 or taking content direct to streaming platforms, so we’ve had to adapt by offering new forms of content and introducing new ways to experience cinema.”

At this stage, there are no plans for the festival to expand into Victoria should cinemas reopen in that state. ICA called on the Victorian government to open cinemas earlier this week; at this stage only drive-thrus may open.

Screenings will take place in metro cinemas Nov 27 – Dec 10 and regional cinemas Nov 19– 30. Participating theatres include:

NSW 

Forum Cinema Wagga 

Scotty’s Cinema Raymond Terrace 

Picture Showman Merimbula 

Forum 6 Cinema Tamworth 

Odeon 5 Cinema Orange 

Gala Cinema Warrawong 

Dendy Newtown 

QLD 

Big Screen Cinemas Hervey Bay 

Gympie Cinema 

Gladstone Cinema 

Dendy Coorparoo 

Dendy Portside 

WA 

Bunbury Grand Cinemas 

Grand Cinemas Armadale 

Grand Cinemas Joondalup 

SA 

Oatmill Cinema Mt Gambier 

Wallis Mt Barker 

Wallis Mitcham 

ACT 

Dendy Canberra 

Tickets are on sale now, view the full program here.

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