How to Curate Sydney Film Festival with Director Nashen Moodley

How exactly does Sydney's biggest film festival come together? Take notes.
Sarah Ward
May 19, 2016

If you love film — enough to want to spend as much of your waking life watching as many movies as you can, that is — then you probably want to be Nashen Moodley. Since 2012, the Sydney Film Festival director has had the envy-inducing task of selecting the features, documentaries and shorts the city's cinephiles will devour each and every June. Yes, it's a year-round endeavour. Yes, it involves more than just sitting in a cinema. In fact, curating a film festival is a much more difficult job than it might seem.

You don't just get a film about a rodeo cowboy who wants to work in fashion, a documentary about competitive endurance tickling and a funny, female-centric take on Frankenstein all in the same lineup by sheer luck, of course — or put together retrospectives on Martin Scorsese and modern independent Korean cinema, either. Programming SFF is a balancing act on many levels, particularly in trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. And, it's also a hunt to find the most interesting, diverse and exciting titles (and to lock them in before anyone else does).

So with all that in mind, just how did Moodley put SFF's killer 2016 program together? We chatted with the man behind the feast of movies every Sydneysider should flock to.

SFF 2016 - Goldstone

CHOOSE LOCAL FROM THE GET-GO (BY KICKING OFF THE FESTIVAL WITH IVAN SEN'S GOLDSTONE)

"It certainly wasn't an obvious choice to open with Goldstone, but when we saw the film, it was very clear to me that when looking at a film that's made by one of Australia's greatest talents in filmmaking — a really multi-talented filmmaker who does it all himself, from directing to writing to editing to composing to the cinematography. He's truly a talent we should treasure in every way, and the opening film spot is right for him.

I think that's a very important thing to do. There's no pressure to do so at all, but I think it is the right thing to do if we can do it. If we don't have the right film, then we certainly wouldn't do it."

SFF 2016 - Psycho Raman

FIND BOLD, INNOVATIVE AND PROVOCATIVE FILMS FOR THE FESTIVAL'S OFFICIAL COMPETITION

"We have criteria for the competition, and the films should be courageous, audacious and cutting-edge. We're looking for innovative films — sometimes they're quite provocative or controversial — and I think we certainly have that in a range of ways through the selection. These are very different films. Some are incredibly stylistically bold and are aggressively bold, in fact. Some are far more subtle. But I think they're all very effective films that are engaging with big issues in many cases, and in very clever ways.

There's some filmmakers there who are quite established, and some filmmakers who are at the start of their careers. And I'm convinced these are filmmakers who will have very long, very productive careers, and we will be talking about them as masters in the years to come."

I Saw the Light

BALANCE WELL-KNOWN AND OBSCURE PICKS

"It's starting from the position that we know what we want to do with the festival. Of course we do want to acknowledge great directors who are making great films. We want to also acknowledge film stars — actors who are well known are often well known because they're good actors.

At the same time, we want to introduce people to new forms. It's about taking people on a journey and really presenting them with the best films we possibly can, and before they get there, trying to explain why it is important that they see these films. So, that balance is very important, and we do think about that very much when we're making the program."

SFF 2016 - Alice in Earnestland

MAKE ROOM FOR RETROSPECTIVE PROGRAMMING 

"It does many things in a way. I think partly we're hoping that we're going to get many people who saw these films on the big screen years ago and want to relive that experience — they love these films and they want to see them again. But at the same time, I think what we've done in recent years is, really, we've drawn a new audience to the retrospectives, and a young audience in particular.

You know, it's quite easy to say, well "Martin Scorsese, everyone's seen every Scorsese film." But that's not quite true. Certainly, people who are in their early twenties and love cinema now would've had very little opportunity to see Scorsese films on the big screen, except for the most recent ones. And almost certainly not on 35mm, and that's what we've done with this program.

Then when you look at our smaller retrospective on Korean independent cinema that's really taking an incisive look at Korean society, then that's introducing people to something that's very specific. We've certainly tried in the last few years to introduce an audience — or introduce to a new audience, or for an audience more familiar with the work, reintroduce it to them — a great master of cinema. But alongside that, we also do something very specific and quite niche in a way. With Korea on the Verge curated by Tony Rayns, it's looking at fairly recent Korean cinema but all with a particular bent and a particular type of critique of Korean society."

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL PROGRAM LAUNCH 2016 AT CUSTOMS HOUSE, SYDNEY - WED 11TH MAY, 2016

BE READY TO BATTLE AUSTRALIA'S GROWING FILM FESTIVAL LANDSCAPE

"It sometimes makes things more difficult in terms of competition over particular films. So I guess that way it can influence what's ultimately in the festival — that the more festivals there are and the more festivals that are looking for premieres, it makes it more competitive for particular titles.

In the broad sense, we want there for to be a great cinema culture in Australia, and some festivals contribute to that, and we want for that to happen. And it can sometimes create difficulties for us, but that's the game. That's how it works, and it happens in different contexts and different ways, but all festivals around the world are fighting for particular films and face obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles are other festivals, so it's not something I'm unaccustomed to."

The 2016 Sydney Film Festival runs from June 8 to 19. To check out the complete program and book tickets, visit the festival website. To check out our top ten picks for the festival, head this way.

Image of Nashen Moodley: via Belinda Rolland

Published on May 19, 2016 by Sarah Ward
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