First look at 2019 Sydney Film Festival

SFF19 The Wedding Guest Dev PatelThe 66th Sydney Film Festival has revealed a sneak peek of 25 new films to be featured in this year’s June event. The announcement is in advance of the full program launch on Wednesday 8 May 2019.

“This sneak peek of the 2019 program invites us to come together and hear from a wonderful kaleidoscope of voices, like the inspiringly sensational powerhouse talent of gospel queen Aretha Franklin, or Adam Goodes courageously standing up against racism and facing severe repercussions as a consequence,” said Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley.

“These first 25 films are a mere taster of the incredible program in store, from the devastating human impact on the world around us, to captivating stories from unique communities, and spotlights on the most accomplished artists of our generation.”

Leading the titles is The Final Quarterdocumenting AFL champion footballer and Indigenous leader Adam Goodes’ divisive public call-out of racism, and Australia’s heated response. Renowned Australian documentarian Ian Darling (Suzy and the Simple Man, SFF 2016) chronicles the final years of the Sydney Swans player’s career, as the cheers turned to boos.

40 years in the making, Amazing Grace captures a never-before-seen, Sydney Pollack’s spine-tingling 1972 performance by iconic diva Aretha Franklin. The legendary live show was recorded for her Grammy Award-winning album Amazing Grace – to this day, the highest selling live gospel album of all time.

Robert Pattinson (Good Time, SFF 2017, The Rover, SFF 2014), Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) and hip hop icon André 3000 star in sexually charged sci-fi thriller High Life, from acclaimed French director Claire Denis (Chocolat); Dev Patel (Lion) is a compelling presence in Michael Winterbottom’s (On the Road, SFF 2017) thrilling, modern film noir The Wedding Guest; and Papi Chulo features Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer (In Time) as a gay TV weatherman who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a straight Latino migrant worker.

In Fabric brings more star power with Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Without a Trace) in British visionary Peter Strickland’s (The Field Guide to Evil, SFF 2018) mesmerising tale of a demonic red dress. Also featuring on the list is winner of the Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Screenplay Piranhasabout a group of 15-year-olds in Naples going from petty thieves to gun-toting gangsters virtually overnight.

Closer to home, She Who Must Be Loved is a celebration of the life of the trailblazing Indigenous filmmaker Alfreda Glynn, by her own daughter Erica Glynn (In My Own Words, SFF 2017) and granddaughter Tanith Glynn-Maloney; and Adelaide filmmaker Sophie Hyde’s hilarious Animals features Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) as best friends who live in a haze of drink, drugs and one-night stands, cutting a swathe through Dublin until their friendship is tested when one of them falls in love.

Choice cuts from the international festival circuit include: the double Oscar-nominated epic Never Look Away – a beautiful and tragic love story inspired – controversially – by the life of German artist Gerhard Richter, from Oscar-winning filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others); and winner of the Horizon Prize at Venice, as well as Best Director prizes at the Cairo and Thessaloniki film festivals, Manta Ray – a visually unforgettable story about the unusual friendship between a Thai fisherman and a Rohingya refugee.

Winner of the NETPAC Award at Toronto International Film Festival, Ash Mayfair’s exquisite debut The Third Wife focusses on a teenager in an arranged marriage in 19th century Vietnam who learns quickly about her world’s suffocating patriarchy; and winner of the Youth Jury Award at San Sebastian International Film Festival, Journey to a Mother’s Rooman intimate and funny portrait of a tight mother-daughter bond that’s tested by separation.

Sydney Film Festival’s documentary program continues to bring the most fascinating stories about people, places, enterprises and phenomena from around the world.

The Kleptocrats is a jaw-dropping exposé on Malaysia’s 1MDB wealth fund scandal, playing out like a Hollywood movie complete with stars, villains and billions of dollars at stake; and Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is a visually stunning essay on the human race’s devastating impact on the Earth, from the trio behind multi-award-winners Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark (SFF 2014)

The Festival also shines a light on renowned contemporary artists. British rock star PJ Harvey’s restless, probing genius shines in A Dog Called Money – documenting the performance-art process behind the recording of her 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project; and Yuli is a moving biography of Cuban ballet luminary Carlos Acosta, the first black principal dancer of the prestigious Royal Ballet.

Stories from communities across the world include: Midnight Familyfollowing a family in Mexico City operating one of many private ambulances hustling for work in the megapolis; Up the Mountaina meditative work about an artist and his community in a Chinese mountain village, evoking a fast-disappearing way of life; and School of Seduction – Three Stories from Russia, about workshops in Putin’s Russia where you can learn ‘skills for seducing wealthy men’, and the women who attend them.

This year’s Festival has its share of the wonderfully quirky, such as delightfully deadpan Cuban sci-fi The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia, about a 60-year-old who signs up to visit an alien planet alongside a motley crew; Hiroshi Okuyama’s strikingly original debut Jesuspresenting Jesus Christ as the tiny friend of a young boy; and Minuscule 2: Mandibles from Far Away dive into the delightful world of animated insects, and follow-up to the award-winning French TV series and debut Minuscule feature.

Also returning is Screen Day Out – the Festival’s program for high school students supported by Australian Teachers of Media Inc. The program will screen Eternity – a brand-new National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) digital restoration of Lawrence Johnston’s 1994 film about Arthur Stace – a Sydneysider who famously chalked the word ‘Eternity’ on his hometown’s streets; and The Miracle of the Little Prince – which explores the nature of language and culture, particularly disappearing Indigenous languages, through Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s classic The Little Prince.

Just announced is Essential Australian Women Directors – 10 Trailblazers Selected by David Strattona program of 10 essential films directed by pioneering Australian women filmmakers. Each film marks a milestone in Australian film history, from influential silent masterpiece The Cheaters, to the only feature film by Indigenous artist Tracey Moffatt, Bedevil.

The 2019 Sydney Film Festival runs 5 – 16 June. Full program announced on Wednesday 8 May. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Dev Patel features in The Wedding Guest (supplied)