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Penelope Cruz, Haruki Murakami, a Doco About Docos: They're All on Sydney Film Festival's First 2023 Lineup

Sydney's annual cinema celebration has announced its initial 12 titles for this year's 70th-anniversary program.
By Sarah Ward
April 05, 2023
By Sarah Ward
April 05, 2023

Each and every year, Sydney Film Festival spends its June run doing exactly what it loves, and letting the Harbour City's movie buffs enjoy the same thing. But even the Harbour City's major annual celebration of cinema only turns 70 once, which means putting together a massive 200-plus-movie program to mark the occasion — starting with these 12 just-announced flicks.

SFF's full lineup will arrive in May, ready to treat film fans of Sydney — and Australia — to Festival Director Nashen Moodley's latest selections from Wednesday, June 7–Sunday, June 18. If the first round of titles is anything to go by, and it usually is, there'll be no shortage of highlights. Penélope Cruz, Haruki Murakami, a documentary about documentaries and their impact upon the folks featured in their frames: they're all covered so far.

Parallel Mothers star Cruz joins the lineup courtesy of L'immensità, playing a mum again. This time, she's in 70s-era Rome and navigating struggles in her marriage, while also supporting her 12-year-old when they begin to identify as a boy — with director Emanuele Crialese drawing upon his own experiences.

Murakami fans, the animated Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman adapts the Japanese author's short story collection of the same name, complete with a quest to save Tokyo. And lovers of docos The Staircase, Capturing the Friedmans, The Wolfpack, Hoop Dreams and The Square should instantly add Subject to their must-see list — it spends time with subjects from all five works, diving into what it means to be the focus of a film, plus the duty of care that documentarians owe the people in their frames.

SFF will also screen the latest features by acclaimed filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Christian Petzold, with the former winning a Venice Special Jury Prize for No Bears and the latter nabbing a Berlinale Silver Bear for Afire. Iranian great Panahi directs and stars, playing a fictionalised version of himself as he's fond of doing (see also: Tehran Taxi), and blending truth and fiction to examine how artists can too easily become scapegoats. Undine and Transit's Petzold once again puts actor Paula Beer in front of his lens, with the German director this time helming a tragicomedy about a seaside holiday surrounded by forest fires.

On the local front, actor and director Rachel Ward returns to SFF after 2019 opening-night pick Palm Beach, this time with Rachel's Farm, a doco about bringing sustainable farming practices to her northern NSW beef farm. And, in The Last Daughter, Wiradjuri woman Brenda Matthews charts her experience being taken from her family as a toddler, growing up with a white foster family, then being returned to her parents.

Taika Waititi graces the SFF lineup as an executive producer, with New Zealand comedy Red, White & Brass telling the true tale of Tongan rugby fans who volunteered to become a marching band for the Rugby World Cup — with no relevant background — just to attend the event.

And, still with impressive cinema names, documentarian Frederick Wiseman's A Couple steps into the relationship between Leo and Sophia Tolstoy, while Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz ruminates upon power in When the Waves Are Gone, which is about two policemen.

Rounding of the initial dozen flicks: Bobi Wine: The People's President, about the Ugandan musician getting political and battling his homeland's dictatorship; and While We Watched, focusing on Indian journalist Ravish Kumar's quest to champion independent reporting.

As for what else is in store, Moodley advises that 2023's full lineup will "continue a 70-year strong tradition of presenting exceptional cinema from across Australia and around the world to Sydney audiences".

"Since 1954, Sydney Film Festival has brought more than 10,000 films to Australian audiences. Year after year, the Festival continues to be a pioneer in the world of cinema, screening bold and inspiring works that provoke thought and push boundaries."

"The 2023 program will expand on this legacy, promising to ignite stimulating dialogues and present powerful ideas that will broaden audience perspectives."

Sydney Film Festival 2023 runs from Wednesday, June 7–Sunday, June 18, with the full lineup announced on Wednesday, May 10 — check back here then for all the details, and hit up the festival website for further information in the interim.

Published on April 05, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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