It's been three years since Australia's cinema scene welcomed the American Essentials Film Festival — and while a fest dedicated to US flicks might seem obvious, this event sets its sights much further than Hollywood's usual suspects. Given that mainstream, megaplex-friendly movies reach our shores every week, the Palace-run showcase instead curates a lineup of other American titles, delving into films from the US indie realm.
Screening in Sydney from May 8 to 20, the 2018 fest has a particular fondness for emerging practitioners, with artistic director Richard Sowada noting "the obvious talent from some of the filmmakers in the early stages of their feature film careers," as well as "the deep and obvious respect even some of these newer filmmakers have for the traditions of storytelling in American cinema." With that in mind, this year's event kicks off with The Boy Downstairs, a Zosia Mamet-starring effort from debut feature writer-director Sophie Brooks, which proved a hit at the 2017 TriBeCa Film Festival.
The opening night pick also highlights one of the festival's other trends — thanks to its focus on American cinema, it boasts plenty of familiar faces on screen. Standouts include Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair battling a murderous rage in horror-comedy Mom and Dad, Helena Bonham Carter and Hilary Swank recreating a landmark '80s case for patients' rights in 55 Steps, and war effort The Yellow Birds, featuring Solo: A Star Wars Story's Alden Ehrenreich, Ready Player One's Tye Sheridan, plus Toni Collette and Jennifer Aniston. There's also two star-studded flicks about sons and their fathers: Humour Me, which pairs up Jemaine Clement and Elliott Gould in a deadpan comedy, and Kodachrome, which takes Jason Sudeikis and Ed Harris on a road trip to a photo processing laboratory.
Other notable titles range from Stuck, which brings the train-set off-Broadway musical of the same name to the cinema; to Outside In, director Lynn Shelter's latest featuring Edie Falco as an ex-high school teacher; to mob drama Gotti, starring John Travolta as the mob boss and screening in Australia just hours after its Cannes Film Festival premiere. On the documentary front, How They Got Over takes a far-reaching documentary into African-American gospel quartets in the '30s and '40s, while RBG examines the life and career of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For the fest's retrospective section, Los Angeles is in the spotlight courtesy of classics Chinatown, Heat and Shampoo, as well as '70s masterpieces Killer of Sheep and Wattstax.