Our Top 14 Picks From The 2016 Sydney Film Festival Program

Starting with a black comedy about the Cronulla riots.

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

The release of a film festival program is like Christmas morning for a cinephile and this morning we all got to unwrap our presents. The Sydney Film Festival has just released their program of more than 250 films which will run from June 8-19.

Here’s a small sampling of the best on offer:

It’s Only The End Of The World (dir. Xavier Dolan)

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux, and Gaspard Ulliel

The indefatigable Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan returns with his sixth feature film. You may know him best as the man who made Adele’s iconic ‘Hello’ video clip, but his movies like Mommy and Lawrence Anyways have all been extraordinary works of art, full of style as powerful drama.

Starring Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux, and Gaspard Ulliel, It’s Only the End of the World will have its world premiere at Cannes this week and follows a man who returns to his hometown to reveal his terminal illness to his family. As with all of Dolan’s films, it’s sure to be a must-see.

Girl Asleep (dir. Rosemary Myers)

Starring: Bethany Whitmore, Matthew Whittet, Harrison Feldman

This Australian gem was the big hit of last year’s Adelaide Film Festival, where it took home the audience award for Best Feature. You wouldn’t know that director Rosemary Myers had never made a film before, because despite coming from a stage background she’s given this charming teen comedy a wonderful cinematic look.

Kind of like what Wes Anderson might make if he moved to the Adelaide suburbs in the 1970s, Girl Asleep is a funny and poignant look at popularity, identity, and friendship with a sense of the absurdly fantastical thrown in.

Down Under (dir. Abe Forsythe)

Starring: Lincoln Youne, Rahel Romahn, Michael Denkha


Where better to stage the world premiere of a black comedy about the Cronulla Riots than in Sydney? No doubt set to become one of the festival’s most talked about movies, Down Under is director Abe Forsythe’s examination of the absurdity of this shameful day.

Featuring a cast of up-and-comers, screenings of Down Under will have audiences on a knife’s edge tensely waiting to see whether there are indeed laughs to be had or if the film’s just bad taste.

Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Lily Gladstone

The films of American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves) don’t tend to get released at all in Australian cinemas so audiences keen on checking out her latest would be wise to catch it here.

Following four women — played by Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Lily Gladstone, and Reichardt regular Michelle Williams — whose lives intersect, Certain Women continues this talented filmmaker’s run of films with women at the centre in stories about disenfranchisement in small town America.

Gimme Danger (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Starring: Iggy Pop


American indie titan Jim Jarmusch’s last film was the heavily stylised vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive. Now he returns to the Cannes Film Festival this month with Gimme Shelter, a documentary about Iggy Pop and the Stooges, that is being fast-tracked to Sydney. Including incredibly footage of Pop as well as Bowie and Nico, this film will be total heaven for rock fans.

In Jackson Heights (dir. Frederick Wiseman)

American documentarian Frederick Wiseman is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. Don’t even try to put this up for debate. The director behind Titicut Follies, High School, At Berkeley and National Gallery has lately been producing epic three-hour tributes to cultural institutions and his latest is no different.

A scintillating and remarkably moving film which look at the diverse diaspora of a New York City neighbourhood, In Jackson Heights is as memorable and as engrossing as it is long. It’s a divine miracle of a film that looks, at least somewhat, at the way gentrification is destroying the diversity of the modern city.

Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Erguven)

Starring: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu

An excellent Turkish movie that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (it lost to Son of Saul) about five sisters whose freedom is taken away and are eventually married off one-by-one.

With echoes of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Mustang is a fiercely feminist drama full of pluck, energy, and chaos thanks to its wonderful cast of young actors. It’s also one of the year’s best movies.

Goat (dir. Andrew Neel)

Starring: Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, James Franco

One of the big hits of Sundance, this look inside the world of frat house hazing stars Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, and features a supposedly very memorable cameo by James Franco (who also produced the film). The fraught nature of masculinity is a favourite of film festivals, but with a load of hype and interesting discussions coming from overseas, Goat is sure to be a memorable experience for more reasons than one.

Mahana (dir. Lee Tamahori)

Starring: Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning

Director Lee Tamahori hasn’t made a film in his native New Zealand since the powerful Once Were Warriors in 1994. Sidetracked by Hollywood productions like Die Another Day and xXx: State of the Union, it will be exciting to see what this once promising director offers up in this tale of family rivalry.

In collaboration once again with actor Temuera Morrison and based on a novel by the author of Whale Rider, Witi Ihemaera, Mahana received positive reviews when it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.

Cinema Mon Amour (dir. Alexandru Belc)

Lovers of cinema won’t want to miss this Romanian documentary which peeks behind the curtain of the country’s dwindling film exhibition business (which has oddly coincided with the country’s filmmakers reaching critical acclaim around the world). The effort to preserve the cinema-going experience will ring true for any film-lover and seeing it in a cinema is an appropriate way to appreciate and respect its story.

The Devil’s Candy (dir. Sean Byrne)

Starring: Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, Kiara Glasco


If the name Sean Byrne doesn’t sound familiar to you, then maybe it will when I tell you he is the warped mind behind Aussie horror classic The Loved Ones in which a psychotic prom queen sang Kasey Chambers to her kidnapped prom king. Byrne has traded the Aussie bush for rural Texas in this high-octane blast of heavy metal horror starring Ethan Embry. If his earlier work is any indication, it promises to be a ghoulish good time.

No Home Movie (dir. Chantal Akerman)

Late last year, pioneering Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman died just a month after the premiere of her latest documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival. The director was incredibly prolific and at the age of just 25 made Jeanne Dielman — a title which has been hailed the 19th greatest film of the 20th century.

This final film is a dialogue between Akerman herself and her mother, and is steeped in Akerman’s trademark style full of long-takes and visual manifestations of loneliness. As a final artistic statement, No Home Movie is a fitting tribute to its director. The festival will also screen a restored version of Jeanne Dielman in its entire 200-minute glory.

Strike A Pose (dir. Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan) and Kiki (dir. Sara Jordeno)

It’s no coincidence that these two queer-themed documentaries have been programmed next to each other with sessions on Friday and Saturday nights. They’re perfect pre-party material.

The former visits the dancers from Madonna’s iconic Blonde Ambition tour 25 years after they were immortalised on screen in the classic In Bed with Madonna. The latter looks back at the NYC ball scene that was made famous by Paris is Burning in 1990. Both are vivacious yet untraditional looks at LGBTIQ life that show us worlds we otherwise might never know.

Miss Sharon Jones! (dir. Barbara Kopple)

New York, NY - February 2, 2014 - Sharon Jones performs at the Beacon Theater following cancer treatment. CREDIT: Jacob Blickenstaff

Two-time Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopples brings this musical documentary about The Dap-Kings front-woman Sharon Jones to the big screen. Following a tumultuous year in Jones’ life as she battles cancer, this film about “the female James Brown” follows in the tradition of Kopple’s earlier musical docs Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing and Wild Man Blues about Woody Allen’s side-career as a prolific jazz musician.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from June 8-19. Check out the full program and buy tickets here.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer from Melbourne. He also works as an editor and a film festival programmer while tweeting too much at @glenndunks.