Seeing in the dark at Sydney Film Festival

This year’s 2014 Sydney Film Festival illuminates audiences in a thematic vision of seeing in the dark.
Seeing in the dark at Sydney Film Festival

​SFF Festival Director Nashen Moodley. Image courtesy of Sydney Film Festival. 

Sydney Film Festival (SFF) festival director Nashen Moodley believes that something special happens inside a darkened cinema as the projected screen illuminates its audience with stories, characters and ideas.

‘What makes the festival really special is that when you’re watching a film with a few thousand other people, the experience is enhanced.’

‘Comedies are funnier, horror films are scarier, drama is more intense. When you have a collective experience, everything is amplified.’

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‘Cinema is a really convincing art form and offers an important understanding of the world. It extends not just to the audiences but also to everyone involved in the creative endeavor of filmmaking,’ he said.

Opening on 4 June and running across 12 days, the 61st Sydney Film Festival brings together filmmakers, critics and audiences in a celebration of cinema, screen culture and storytelling.

Moodley said this year’s Festival program is the biggest to date and includes 183 titles from 47 countries, 15 world premieres, 122 Australian premieres and six international premieres.

This year’s festival theme of ‘seeing in the dark’ unites filmmakers and audiences from across the world in a literal sense of sharing the experience of cinema and the ideas that underpin society.

‘We’ve programmed a lot of great films from all over the world. It’s a film festival that is made for audiences,’ he said.

‘There’s a selection by subject, but also in terms of theme and style. What we have tried to do with the program is make a very broad selection, and have films in the festival for everyone,’ he said. 

Local filmmakers take the spotlight this year with one of the strongest Australian programs to date. The Australian premiere of 20,000 Days on Earth features rock legend Nick Cave and will open the festival on Wednesday 4 June at the State Theatre.

Sydney’s beautiful State Theatre forms a centerpiece venue and will close the festival on Sunday 15 June with New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows.

‘Coming back to the wonderful State Theatre, it’s a really rare opportunity to be able to present films in a historic picture palace of that scale,’ he said.

‘Filmmakers are always surprised and delighted to be able to play their films a venue like that because most will never have that kind of opportunity.’

Other popular venues to host SFF screenings will also include Event Cinemas George Street, Dendy Opera Quays, the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace Cremorne, Art Gallery of NSW and the Skyline Drive-In Blacktown.

Direct from its world premiere screening at the Cannes Film Festival, the much-anticipated futuristic thriller The Rover by Animal Kingdom director David Michod will also play at the State Theatre on Saturday 7 June.

Michôd joins stars Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson and producer Liz Watts as they take part in a public talk as part of the Vivid Ideas festival.

The Rover is one of 12 films to been selected for Official Competition in the largest amount of Australian nominees ever alongside the world premiere of Kasimir Burgess’ Fell, and Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody’s Ruin.

The prestigious Sydney Film Prize, now in its seventh year comes with a highly desirable $60,000 cash prize.

‘The Official competition is really respected here in Australia and around the world. It’s a prestigious prize to win, and that’s something that people are very eager to be involved with.’

‘The competition is really interesting and we get many guests attending the festival with their films. But what is important is that they all have something to say, and have something to share not just with the audience but with their filmmaking peers.’

In his third year as festival director, Moodley has seen the festival move from strength to strength, with attendances increasing by 23 per cent since 2011 to 143,000.

‘Each festival director brings their own pace to the selection, and I’m really happy that in the last few years the audiences have grown a great deal,’ he said.

‘SFF has a long and proud history and a very loyal support here in Sydney and I’m very happy to continue that tradition.’

‘Audiences have increased over this time. I’m really happy that we have done things like introduce the festival Hub at Town Hall, which I think is a really exciting space. It’s important for our audience to have a place to discuss and deepen their understanding of cinema,’ he said.

With something for everyone,  the SFF website was the best way to navigate the program. Moodley recommends using it to try something out of your comfort zone.

‘Take chances, don’t just watch films that you think you’d like or watch films by filmmakers you’d already know. For me its very important to take chances and that’s the way to discover some really new and exciting,’ he said.

‘It could change your perspective, so watch films from another country, take chances on new directors and that will really lend itself to the best festival experience that you could have.’

The 61st Sydney Film Festival runs from 4 to 15 June in venues across the city.

For more information including ticket sales and the complete event program visit the Sydney Film Festival website.

Troy Nankervis

Monday 12 May, 2014

About the author

Troy Nankervis is an ArtsHub journalist from Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @troynankervis