WEINER, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
WEINER

The 2016 Sydney Film Festival announced the first 26 films to be featured in this year’s festival, plus a Martin Scorsese retrospective curated by David Stratton. 

The 63rd Sydney Film Festival will run Wednesday June 8  to 19, 2016.

Films on the lineup include Sundance 2016 Grand Jury Prize for US Documentary winner Weiner, an explosive film following former congressman Anthony Weiner, the subject of two sexting scandals, and his wife Huma Abedin (long-time aide to Hillary Clinton); A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers, by Festival guest and two time Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and co-director Geeta Gandbhir, following 160 predominantly Muslim Bangladeshi policewomen on a difficult mission overseas; the eye-opening Janis Joplin biopic Janis: Little Girl in Blue; and American experimental artist Laurie Anderson’s avant-garde journey though love and loss in Heart of a Dog.

The powerful Mr. Gaga celebrates influential choreographer, Israeli Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company.

DOCUMENTARIES

A JOURNEY OF A THOUSAND MILES: PEACEKEEPERS
Director: Geeta Gandbhir, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy | USA, Pakistan | 95 mins | In English, Bengali and Creole with English subtitles
The inspiring story of a group of Bangladeshi policewomen, who join a UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti, directed by two-time Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Geeta Gandbhir. The primary focus isn’t the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, but rather the struggles of the Muslim police officers who attempt to balance family and community expectations with their personal ambitions. Once in Port-au-Prince, with little training or experience, these mothers – and breadwinners – struggle with homesickness, stolen weapons and a volatile environment, which is only intensified when the UN mission is accused of spreading cholera. The filmmakers follow the women throughout their preparations, mission and eventual return home to Dhaka – where they face fresh challenges – providing a rare insight into the lives of modern Muslim women. Also screening in this year’s Festival is Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s 2016 Oscar winning short documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, on the subject of honor killings in Pakistan.

A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS
Director: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy | Pakistan | 39 mins | In Punjabi and Urdu with English subtitles
This is a short.

HEART OF A DOG
Director: Laurie Anderson | USA | 75 mins | In English
Artist and musician Laurie Anderson’s poignant meditation on love, childhood, stories and belief, is also an ode to her late mother, partner Lou Reed and beloved dog Lolabelle. Anderson’s distinctive voice and music guide us through a progression of dreamy, often humorous images, including home movies, dog photos and animations. The artist’s memories of family and childhood, philosophical reflections on belief and grieving, modern day surveillance, and most importantly her much-loved terrier, are melded into an intimate essay-style film. It’s been described by Anderson as ‘a story about how stories work—how you forget your own story, how you repeat your own story, how somebody else’s story gets plastered onto you’. Her last feature, Home of the Brave, was 30 years ago. In her inspired return to the art form, she has produced a unique and intensely personal work.

JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE
Director: Amy Berg | USA | 106 mins | In English
Uncompromising rocker Janis Joplin, as you’ve never known her before: an eye-opening documentary featuring unseen footage, private letters and interviews with band members. Joplin died at age 27 from a heroin overdose, within a few short years of Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones and Jim Morrison – the quartet later tagged the ‘27 Club’. Her tragic early death turned her into an icon, and in the process the woman and her talent were diminished. Oscar-nominated director, Amy Berg, with access to Joplin’s personal letters (read by singer Cat Power) and previously unseen footage and interviews, looks behind the myth. She charts the evolution of Joplin from her 1950s Texan home-town, to San Francisco in the era of hippie-dom and psychedelia, to her breakout performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Most importantly, the film celebrates Joplin’s raw, brazen talent, and the clout of her unmistakable gravelly voice.

LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED
Director: Werner Herzog | USA | 98 mins | In English
Werner Herzog, director of such beloved classics of the non-fiction realm as Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, turns his inimitable eye on the evolution of the Internet. Herzog tackles this ambitious topic in 10 chapters; beginning with the birth of the phenomena in a drab University of California room, continuing through themes such as hacking, addiction, online harassment, and artificial intelligence. His interviews with pioneers, experts, geeks and other visionaries are frequently downright playful, despite the often chilling content. He explores everything from computer games and self-driving cars to cellular-free zones and artificial intelligence with his trademark skepticism and curiosity. And finally, Herzog confronts the future with probing questions about the role that the Internet itself will play in shaping society’s morals and dreams.

MR. GAGA, Tomer Heymann
MR. GAGA

MR. GAGA
Director: Tomer Heymann | Israel, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands | 100 mins | In English and Hebrew with English subtitles
This multi-award winning documentary chronicles the life and work of modern dance choreographer Ohad Narahin, offering a glimpse into the artistic genius’ creative process. Filmmaker Tomer Heymann, who has known Ohad Narahin for more than 20 years, spent eight of those making this documentary. In the process, he interviewed Naharin’s friends, dancers and colleagues. He also filmed rehearsals at the Batsheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv, where the sinuous Naharin has been artistic director and choreographer since 1990. Naharin himself speaks of his early kibbutz childhood, his late introduction to dance, a brief spell at Martha Graham’s company, his adored wife, and his work, including the creation of his own movement language, Gaga. This richness of Narahin’s life-story is further amplified by stunning dance excerpts from his explosive, hypnotic and stylish productions.

NO HOME MOVIE
Director: Chantal Akerman | Belgium, France | 115 mins | In English, French and Spanish with English subtitles
The final film by influential Belgian director Chantal Akerman (Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 1975) is a profoundly moving mother-and-daughter portrait. Akerman’s mother, Natalia, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz, is now a frail old woman mostly confined to her Brussels apartment. Her life experiences and chronic anxiety have had a significant impact on her daughter, influencing the filmmaker’s frequent exploration of themes such as gender, sex, solitude and cultural identity. Akerman probes her mother’s fading memories, both in person and online, against the background of routine mundanities. In the final months of her mother’s life, Akerman endeavors to capture the stories that will soon vanish for good. Tragically, having died in October 2015, this is also the last story that Akerman will tell.

SONITA
Director: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami | Germany, Switzerland, Iran | 91 mins | In English and Farsi with English subtitles
This year’s winner of the world documentary Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance is the story of how a gutsy Afghani refugee’s love of rap music changed her life. Sonita, an undocumented exile, lives in Tehran with her sister and young niece. The teenager dreams of being a superstar rapper, an ambition at odds with the Iranian regime and Afghani traditions. Sonita’s long unseen mother pays her a surprise visit: she’s decided to sell her daughter as a bride, so they can buy her brother a wife. At this point, the film’s director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami takes a pivotal role in Sonita’s life – firstly by deferring the wedding plans, and then entering her into an online rap competition. Sonita’s fate hangs in the balance. This is an absorbing look at the evolution of a teenager from dreamer to budding activist, which simultaneously calls into question the role of a filmmaker.

WEINER
Director: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg | USA | 95 mins | In English
This absorbing exposé of Anthony ‘sexting scandal’ Weiner’s 2013 New York mayoral campaign won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. In 2011, Weiner resigned from Congress after being shamed for sending a sexually explicit photograph of himself via Twitter. His wife Huma Abedin, who happens to be Hillary Clinton’s top aide, stood by him throughout. When news breaks of Weiner’s return to Twitter, using the moniker ‘Carlos Danger’, the mayoral bid falls apart. The frustration of his supporters and cool-headed wife (the Clinton parallel is unmistakable), along with the media’s outraged and often comical response, pales beside the jaw-dropping reaction of Weiner himself. Filmmakers Kriegman (a former Weiner aide) and Steinberg enjoyed unconstrained access to the charismatic, erudite politician and the result is fascinating viewing.

FEATURES

A COPY OF MY MIND
Director: Joko Anwar | Indonesia, South Korea | 116 mins | In Indonesian with English subtitles
An unlikely romance blossoms between a film-loving beautician and an amateur DVD bootlegger against the turbulent socio-political backdrop of contemporary Jakarta. Sari (Tara Basro), when not working at the salon, spends her spare time watching monster movies on pirated DVDs. When she complains about dodgy subtitles on one of her discs, she’s introduced to the man who ineptly subtitles them, Alek (Chicco Jerikho). What starts as a fun, erotic, yet decidedly peculiar affair is quickly jeopardized. The couple’s lives are put in grave danger when they discover that a disc stolen by Sari contains evidence of government corruption. Joko Anwar’s fifth film (his debut, Joni’s Promise, screened at SFF 2005) masterfully shifts gears from charming, low-key romance to a suspenseful and immersive depiction of urban Jakarta and Indonesia’s political climate.

A WAR
Director: Tobias Lindholm | Denmark | 116 mins | In Danish with English subtitles
Director Tobias Lindholm and actor Pilou Asbæk reunite following their collaboration on A Hijacking (SFF 2013) in this riveting and complex exploration of Denmark’s role in the Afghan war. Asbæk (Borgen, Game of Thrones) is company commander Claus M. Pedersen stationed in an Afghan province. Back in Denmark, his wife Maria tries to keep things together, caring for their three children who desperately miss their father. During a routine mission, the soldiers are caught in heavy crossfire and in order to save his men, Claus makes a decision that has grave consequences. Casting former Danish soldiers and Afghan refugees, Lindholm has created a realistic, gripping film that looks at the moral dilemmas and personal consequences faced by those in war zones. Equally adept at tension-filled scenes of armed conflict as it is with the emotional repercussions, A War is a meticulous and exceptional film.

Angry Indian Goddesses by Pan Nalin
ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES

ANGRY INDIAN GODDESSES
Director: Pan Nalin | India, Germany | 104 mins | In English and Hindi with English subtitles
Dubbed India’s answer to Bridesmaids, this female buddy movie from acclaimed director Pan Nalin (Samsara) presents a refreshingly frank portrait of women in India today. Ahead of Frieda’s pending nuptials, a group of her closest friends gather to catch up on lost time at her beachside home in Goa. The diverse bunch includes a singer, photographer, actress, activist, a trophy wife and a businesswoman. Their conversation flows freely and jubilantly, leading to revealing and often hilarious discussions that span everything from sex to gender politics to the handsome guy next door. That is until an incident threatens to break their newly formed bond. An audience favorite at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Angry Indian Goddesses is a riotous, genre-bending gem that explores the pressing issues of gender and sexism in contemporary Indian society.

DEMOLITION
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée | USA | 101 mins | In English
Jake Gyllenhaal shines alongside Naomi Watts in Jean-Marc Vallée’s darkly comic drama about a man attempting to rebuild his life after the devastating loss of his wife. Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a car crash. Instead of grieving as expected, he writes elaborate, revealing letters of complaint to a vending machine company. The letters catch the attention of customer service representative, Karen (Watts) and the two form an unlikely connection. Meanwhile, Davis sets about understanding and rebuilding his life by taking everything in it apart, piece by piece. Vallée (Wild, Dallas Buyers Club, C.R.A.Z.Y.) daringly defies convention in this constantly surprising and frequently very funny film built around Gyllenhaal’s standout performance.

DESDE ALLA (FROM AFAR)
Director: Lorenzo Vigas | Venezuela | 93 mins | In Spanish with English subtitles
Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, this story of a middle-aged man’s affair with a young street thug is a tense study of class conflict and desire in Venezuela’s capital. Desde Alla translates to ‘from afar’, a title that aptly captures the literal and figurative distances that characterize this impressive debut feature from director Lorenzo Vigas. Wealthy, closeted Armando (Alfredo Castro) cruises the streets of Caracas looking for young men to pay for look-but-don’t-touch sexual activities. When one of these clients assaults and robs him, he decides to track him down rather than report the incident. Quite unexpectedly, a relationship develops between these two very different but equally disenfranchised men. With an exacting visual style reminiscent of Michael Haneke, this absorbing and psychologically nuanced character study marks the arrival of an exciting new filmmaker.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
Director: Richard Linklater | USA | 117 mins | In English
Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Boyhood (SFF 2014) is an infectiously funny ‘spiritual sequel’ to his cult classic Dazed and Confused about college kids in the early ’80s. Set during the first weekend of university, Linklater’s new film picks up where Dazed and Confused ended, at the tail end of the ’70s with characters just about to finish high school. Jake, played by charismatic newcomer Blake Jenner, arrives at his Texan university and moves into the house reserved for the baseball team. In the space of a couple of days, he gets acquainted with his teammates – some friendly and welcoming, others less so. What follows for the group is a whirlwind weekend of drinking, dope-smoking, clubbing, chasing girls and ultimately bonding. The result is a hugely enjoyable, comedic romp, peppered with unforgettable punchlines, and crafted with much affection.

FRANCOFONIA
Director: Alexander Sokurov | France, Germany, Netherlands | 87 mins |
In French, Russian and German with English subtitles After his love letter to the Hermitage Museum in Russian Ark (2002), the master Sokurov turns his gaze to the Louvre and the astonishing collaboration that preserved its treasures. Using a combination of fiction and documentary to dazzling effect, Sokurov (Faust, SFF 2012) tells the story of Louvre director Jacques Jaujard and Nazi occupation officer Count Franziskus Wolff-Metternich. Their unlikely alliance during World War II ensured that the Louvre’s artworks stayed in France and survived the war. Alongside this historical account, Sokurov creates a contemporary tale of a distressed ship carrying the contents of a museum, and through Skype calls with the captain, discusses the notion of art in peril. In his sophisticated and profound cinematic essay, Sokurov deftly and movingly, appraises the value of art to humanity, particularly in times of conflict.

MAGALLANES
Director: Salvador del Solar | Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Spain | 109 mins | In Spanish with English subtitles
This suspenseful political thriller reaches deep into Peru’s long-troubled history to tell a moving tale of a man’s quest for redemption. Taxi driver Magallanes (Damián Alcázar) struggles to get by, and spends his spare time with his former military superior, a once-feared colonel during the civil conflict, who is now senile. One day Magallanes encounters Celina (Magaly Solier), an indigenous woman he knew decades before under very different circumstances. He begins following her, eager to help and protect her when he discovers that she is in trouble with nasty loan sharks. Magallanes decides that the only solution to Celina’s troubles is a dangerous extortion scheme; one that will unearth a history of terrible abuse. Director del Solar has made a tense thriller with a strong humanist core, resulting in an unforgettable and emotional film.

MAGGIE’S PLAN
Director: Rebecca Miller | USA | 99 mins | In English
Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore star in this witty New York comedy about modern relationships from writer-director Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, SFF 2009). Just when career advisor Maggie (Gerwig) decides to put her romantic misadventures behind her and embark on motherhood alone through artificial insemination, love blossoms with anthropology professor John (Hawke). To be with her, he ends his marriage to brilliant but domineering academic Georgette (Moore) – however, things with John don’t go quite as Maggie had hoped. With a little help from married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie devises a madcap scheme to put everything right again. A delight from start to finish, Maggie’s Plan is a satirical take on the follies of New York intelligentsia that both recalls and refreshes the Woody Allen model.

MORRIS FROM AMERICA
Director: Chad Hartigan | USA, Germany | 89 mins | In English and German with English subtitles
Winner of the Sundance Screenwriting Award, this is a fresh, funny film about how a shy AfricanAmerican teen who relocates to Germany deals with culture shock and first love. 13-year-old Morris (Markees Christmas) finds himself entering puberty in the unfamiliar world of Heidelberg, Germany, a city rich in history, but seriously lacking in diversity. Alienated by both his lack of German, and the nastiness of the local kids, Morris is entirely reliant on his close relationship with his single father Curtis (Craig Robinson, The Office), with whom he shares a love of hip hop. That all changes when Morris falls in love with beautiful and rebellious 15-year-old local Katrin and their growing friendship starts to threaten the strong bond he has with his father. All the while, Morris harbors dreams of hip-hop stardom, and this strange new world may well provide the inspiration he needs to make this happen.

MUSTANG directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
MUSTANG

MUSTANG
Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven | Turkey, France, Qatar, Germany | 94 mins | In Turkish with English subtitles
Winner of a Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, six Césars and an Oscar nomination, this Turkish gem is a powerful portrait of sisterhood. On the last day of school in a village in northern Turkey, five lively sisters splash around on the beach with their male classmates. Their innocent games catch the eye of a nosey neighbor, who reports what she considers to be their illicit behavior to the orphaned girls’ overbearing grandmother and domineering uncle. The family overreacts, confiscating all ‘instruments of corruption’ like cell phones and computers. The girls become prisoners in their own home, forced to endure endless lessons in housework in preparation for marriage. Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut is an understated, heartfelt feminist drama that highlights the sisters’ fierce unity and resilience, and the bittersweet loss of their childhood.

SING STREET
Director: John Carney | Ireland | 105 mins | In English
John Carney’s latest is a beguiling portrait of ’80s Dublin, complete with stone-washed denim, wild haircuts and a nostalgic soundtrack of The Cure, Duran Duran and The Police. Forced to downsize amid Ireland’s crippling recession, middle child Conor (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) must leave the comfort of his private school for its counterpart, a tough inner city public school. Bullied there and ignored at home, Conor forms a band in an attempt to woo a mysterious girl he spots across the schoolyard. Sing Street is a wonderfully authentic, sweet-natured tale of music’s life saving abilities. Carney (Begin Again, SFF 2014; Once, SFF 2007) has mined his own teenage years, to deliver a fresh take on the teen musical genre, while giving a knowing wink to the decade that style forgot. And in true Carney fashion, he has composed some superb new songs that will stay in your head for weeks.

SUNSET SONG
Director: Terence Davies | UK, Luxembourg | 135 mins | In English
Legendary British director Terence Davies offers a richly cinematic take on a classic of Scottish literature, starring model turned actress Agyness Deyn and Peter Mullan. In rural Scotland, with WWI looming, Chris (Deyn) is a woman fighting her own war. Her father John (Mullan, My Name is Joe) is a fiery, brutish farmer, and both her mother Jean (Daniela Nardini) and brother Will (Jack Greenless) suffer from his abuse. Chris dreams of becoming a schoolteacher, though it’s the land itself that exerts the greatest pull over her. The landscapes of Sunset Song – shot seamlessly between both Scotland and New Zealand – are absolutely ravishing. But it’s director Terence Davies’ (Distant Voices, Still Lives) realization of Chris’s struggle for independence against all odds that resonates the deepest, and provides the film with its indelible emotional core.

THARLO
Director: Pema Tseden | China | 123 mins | In Tibetan with English subtitles
During a visit to a nearby town, the peaceful life of a reclusive Tibetan shepherd is upended by romance and bureaucracy, in this visually stunning black and white drama. “I know who I am. Isn’t that enough?” says Tharlo (played exquisitely by Shide Nyima), when a local policeman tells him to get a photo ID card. This simple process leads him to see his own life with fresh eyes, aided by his growing affection for local hairdresser Yangchuo (Yang Shik Tso). Her intentions, however, are not as pure as they initially appear. This fourth feature film from Pema Tseden comments incisively on the clash between tradition and modernity that defines life in contemporary Tibet. A slow-burning heartbreaker that unfolds with fable-like simplicity, Tharlo demands to be seen on a big screen for its austere, enveloping beauty.

THE COMMUNE
Director: Thomas Vinterberg | Denmark | 112 mins | In Danish with English subtitles
Trine Dyrholm won the Best Actress award at the Berlinale for her terrific performance in this new ’70s-set drama by acclaimed Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, The Hunt). Vinterberg’s experience of living in a commune between the ages of seven and 19 has inspired this affectionate and moving film about the joys and perils of communal life. Anna (Dyrholm) and Erik (frequent collaborator Ulrich Thomsen), a professional couple with an adolescent daughter, inherit a large house, which they decide to populate with friends and eccentrics. Celebrating with a group nude swim, these idealists and dreamers begin the process of negotiating their new, joint life. This tense and humor-filled arrangement ultimately results in togetherness. A love affair, however, threatens to destroy this hard-won solidarity. The Commune is a gentle portrait of a generation finding a balance between its ideals and its reality.

THE DEVIL’S CANDY
Director: Sean Byrne | USA | 90 mins | In English
Heavy metal music, dark forces and a dream home with a hefty hidden cost are the elements of this red-hot horror by Australian writer-director Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones). The Devil’s Candy grabs you from the get-go with characters you care about – and a thumping soundtrack full of clamorous cuts by bands like Slayer, Metallica and Sunn O))). Ethan Embry is spot-on as Jesse Hellman, an artist who uses heavy metal music for inspiration. He’s a loving husband to wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and a great dad to teenage daughter and fellow metal fan Zooey (Kiara Glasco). When Jesse and Astrid snap up a huge Texas ranch home at a bargain-basement price, it seems like all domestic and artistic dreams have come true. The house, however, has other ideas. With local weirdo Ray added to the tasty mix, Byrne lets loose with a scary and stylish descent into madness and murder.

UNDER THE SHADOW
Director: Babak Anvari | UK, Jordan, Qatar | 84 mins | In Farsi with English subtitles
In war-torn Tehran, an evil entity invades the apartment of a mother and her young daughter. Babak Anvari’s debut combines scary supernatural suspense and potent cultural commentary. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a westernized woman in post-revolutionary Iran, whose past political affiliations have disqualified her from completing a medical degree. When her doctor husband is ordered to help in the long-running war with Iraq, Shideh is left to care for their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). As bombs fall on the capital and residents begin to flee, a malevolent djinn (genie) enters their home. Pure terror strikes Shideh when Dora announces the demon has promised to find her a better mother. With Shideh’s sense of suffocation in a conservative society underpinning its atmosphere of mounting dread, and expertly executed fright scenes, Under the Shadow is a Persian horror to relish.

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