In Arts + Entertainment

Sydney Film Festival 2019 Must-Sees According To Festival Director Nashen Moodley

At least 307 cinematic works from around the world will be picked apart and analysed by theatregoers for the 66th annual Sydney Film Festival, which each year spends 12 days of a burgeoning winter delivering a stacked program of cinema that shocks, inspires, thrills, embraces and divides ­– often all at the same time.

Various venues across Sydney, including the historic State Theatre and nearby Event Cinemas George Street, will be swarmed with enthusiastic audiences, filing into screenings between June 5 and 16.

And the affable Nashen Moodley will certainly be amongst them, as he has been each year since commencing his role as Sydney Film Festival’s Director in 2012.

Image: Sydney Film Festival

Moodley, who before SFF was the head of programming for South Africa’s historic Durban International Film Festival, has spent plenty of time with each of the works on this program. So, who better to guide audiences with his top picks of the line-up?

Here are just some of the most essential films to watch during the festival, as chosen by Moodley himself.

Films that spark conversation

Image: Sydney Film Festival

The Final Quarter is Moodley’s top pick as far as conversation starters go. Ian Darling’s documentary on the final years of Adam Goodes’ career will undoubtedly re-spark the conversations surrounding the events that led to his retirement from the AFL in 2015.

“It’s a film entirely made up of archived footage – things that happened at that time,” says Moodley. “It’s one that really makes you angry since the issue at the time really caused such a range of reactions. It’s an incredibly powerful work, I think it will lead to a lot of discussion.”

Also in-line with this type of cinema is Synonyms, an Israeli feature by Nadav Lapid – one of 12 selected to be part of the festival’s Official Competition. Moodley describes the Berlinale Golden Bear-winning film as a “crazy ride” that steers viewers into a “pretty dark place”.

“It’s incredibly provocative,” says Moodley. “I think people will either love this film or hate it. It’s really an uncompromising work, which is what I think festivals are for –- to show you those kind of works that really push you, and leave a very visceral reaction.”

Finally, Moodley lands with documentary The Brink. The Alison Klayman helmed documentary centres on far-right political strategist Steve Bannon.

“It’s quite scary,” he says. “At one point in the film he mentions the people who are trying to speak to him or get advice from him, and you see how this type of politics that tries to exclude other people is becoming increasingly popular.

“There will be a lot of discussion on this one.”

Films for a thrill

Image: Sydney Film Festival

Next to all the inspiration and provocation that defines SFF each year is always a stack of must-see movies designed to simply enjoy. Whether it’s for a good belly laugh, a disquieting scare, or an emotional wallop, these films are always elevated by the festival’s expressive atmosphere.

For Moodley, fans of laughs and scares are no better served this year than by The Dead Don’t Die, Jim Jarmush’s star-studded undead comedy-horror which features the likes of Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Adam Driver, RZA (of the Wu-Tang Clan), Iggy Pop and Selena Gomez.

“It’s a very unusual zombie film that’s funny but also kind of scary,” says Moodley, who praises Jarmush’s characteristic eccentricity. “I think that’s a fantastic one that will prove very popular”.

For those who love a solid cry in the cinema, Brazillian film Bacuaru, straight from Cannes, should hit hard. “I think it’s quite emotional when you look at the solidarity of a small village under a great deal of pressure,” says Moodley. “It also moves into a completely unexpected and shocking space – I shouldn’t talk anymore about it, because it comes as a huge surprise”.

Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory should strike a chord with viewers. The film stars Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, the latter portraying a movie director who mirrors much of Almodaovar’s real-life story. “We look at this incredible urge to create that is harmed by physical inability,” says Moodley. “I think it is beautiful and very touching”.

Films for a visual feast

Image: Sydney Film Festival

High-risk, high-reward projects and ambitious technical marvels are often the stand-outs for SFF, and there will be no shortage of spectacles this year.

Moody is quick to recommend Columbian feature Monos, which is in the Official Competition. “It’s sort of like a Lord of the Flies situation in the Colombian jungle,” he says. “There are very young people with a lot of machine guns, and while you’re not quite sure what they’re fighting for, things can get pretty vicious. It’s astonishing to look at”.

Also on the list is The Souvenir by Joanna Hogg, and Parasite by Bong Joon-ho, the latter a follow-up to the renowned Korean director’s 2017 hit Okja.

“Every frame is so perfectly composed,” says Moodley as he refers to Parasite. “It uses architecture and a range of emotions and designs to completely contrast two Korean families.”

(Lead image: Luke Latty for Sydney Film Festival / supplied)

Published 15 May, 2019