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Sweetie, You Won't Believe It directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev
Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev

Sydney’s leading festival for cult, underground and independent films, the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF), returns with a packed virtual program for its 15th year, from Thursday September 9th to Sunday September 26th, 2021.

With lockdown restrictions in Sydney, the Sydney Underground Film Festival 2021 will stream its full program on-demand across Australia and the world, offering a curated slate of films across 18 days in September.

The 2021 line-up features 30 feature films and documentaries, 20 Australian premieres, a special 40-year anniversary film, and over 100 wild and wacky shorts across nine themed sessions.

Joining the program for its third year will be much-loved filmmaking competition TAKE48 Film Challenge. Putting filmmakers’ abilities to the test, TAKE48 takes place for 48 hours from Friday September 3rd to Sunday September 5th, 2021. This year’s Challenge will also be entirely online, with entries open to Sydneysiders as well as interstate and international participants, and over $16,500 in prizes to be won, including camera prizes from SONY Australia.

Katherine Berger, Festival Director said, “At a time when there is so much uncertainty, we couldn’t just bear to postpone or cancel SUFF in 2021. We owe it to so many people that support SUFF and that includes all the filmmakers that have been submitting films to us all throughout the pandemic. It’s been a tough time to host an event and a tough time to be making films, but creative outlets are so important, especially in a time like this.”

2021 Festival highlights

Opening film is Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It from Kazakhstan-based director Yernar Nurgaliyev, a hilarious no-holds-barred road trip film about a man who decides to get away from his nagging wife with his friends, befallen by a series of highly entertaining and incomprehensible events.

The Australian premiere of The Land, a cinematic experiment between internationally renowned photographer Ingvar Kenne, academic Gregory Ferris, and award-winning actors Steve Rodgers (Rush) and Cameron Stewart. A micro-budget, improvised drama, The Land is a bold and confronting story of friendship tested by a very dark secret, filmed over the course of three years.

Feel-good films redefining the importance of community include Alien On Stage, where a very amateur dramatics group (a bunch of UK bus drivers) create a serious stage adaptation of sci-fi horror film, Alien. The comedic, philosophical documentary Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest sees ‘Cannon Arm’ Kim attempt to be the first in the world to play an arcade machine from the early ‘80s for 100 consecutive hours.

Eye-opening music documentaries with women at the forefront include Fanny: The Right to Rock, revealing the untold story of a Filipina American garage band that morphed into the ferocious rock group Fanny; and Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché, in which the death of punk icon and X-Ray Spex front-woman Poly Styrene sends her daughter on an intimate journey through her mother’s archives.

The life and times of some of the world’s most provocative and challenging artists are explored in documentary film, with indie director Beth B’s Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over, the first career-spanning retrospective of Lydia Lunch’s acerbic and always electric artistry as New York City’s preeminent No Wave icon of the late 70s. Moments Like This Never Last, about another New York native, the late Dash Snow, documents his turn from notorious graffiti tagger into international art star, rejecting a life of privilege to make his own way as an artist through drug and alcohol-fueled nights in downtown NYC in the late 90s.

Brilliant comedies from all corners of the globe start in Australia, with Robert Wood’s An Ideal Host, where the apocalypse comes to dinner and Sweethurt by Sydney filmmaker Tom Danger: two intertwining stories of love, friendship, and paralyzing regret that can keep you up at night. For those whose tastes lend themselves to the camp, absurd and ridiculous, there is Ninja Badass, Routines and Shit & Champagne. Those who prefer more darkness, drugs and misanthropy in their humor will enjoy Danny. Legend. God., about a corrupt and maniacal Baltic businessman that highjacks a documentary made about him, and Hotel Poseidon, a film reminiscent of Delicatessen that follows reluctant hotel owner Dave, a man troubled by nightmares, his neighbor and love. SUFF is also screening Estonian director Ramus Merivoo’s Kratt, a highly enjoyable fantasy film where children are left at Grandma’s house without their smartphones and find instructions for Kratt, a magical creature who will do whatever its master says.

A special 40th anniversary presentation of renowned Polish director Walerian Borowczyk’s film The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne, a visually stunning, perverse adaptation of the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, starring Udo Kier and the most unforgettable bath scene in movie history.

SUFF’s selection of twisted, tweaked and wonderful short films come from filmmakers across Australia, the USA, the UK, France, Norway, Canada, Finland, Denmark, India, Japan, and the Russian Federation. This year, SUFF introduces three new shorts selections: a special slate of science fiction shorts in Other Worlds; a quartet of films about friendship, duty and revenge in Lovable Idiots; and Exploding Eyeballs, exploring all forms of animation from the experimental to the familiar.

This year’s smorgasbord of shorts includes non-fiction shorts in Reality Bites; the most disturbing and at times beautiful love stories to be found in Love/Sick; Shit Scared’s showing of spooked out, cinematic darkness; mind-expanding narratives of LSD Factory; the best emergent Australian talent in Ozploit!; and WTF!, the films too strange and excessive to go anywhere else in the program.

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