Arthouse in Your House: A Canberran’s Guide to the Sydney Film Festival

Amelia Ulman and Ale Ulman at the hairdresser in the movie 'El Planeta'

Amelia Ulman (right) and her real mother, Ale Ulman (left), star The planet. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

The 68th Sydney Film Festival begins soon, but you do not have to travel 300 km to experience it.

From the 12th-21st. November 2021, cinephiles from across Australia can enjoy 56 feature films and 13 short films from the festival’s film strings via its On Demand platform.

By enjoying the best of this year’s offer from the comfort of their own home, On Demand festival goers can rent any of the films on offer individually or in bundles at a discounted price.

To help with your choices, here is a list of some of the most exciting Sydney Film Festival deals.

The features

From the international festival circuit come Sundance Grand Jury nominees Planets, a charming offbeat comedy directed by Argentine multidisciplinary artist Amalia Ulman.

Ulman, who also stars in the film with his mother in real life, uses the aesthetics of the mid-brow to portray a week in life as a petty criminal duo in the midst of the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

For fans of the amazing there is too Swan song, Starring Udo Kier, who portrays a former flamboyant hairdresser who takes a long walk through the small town of Ohio to fulfill a dying client’s dying wish.

Firefighter faces bushfire

A Fire inside documents the heroism of Australia’s firefighters during the 2019-2020 Black Summer bush fires. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

The documentaries

Fighting it out for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award er A fire inside, a cinematic look at the selfless actions of everyday Australians during the bushfires of Black Summer 2019-2020; Invisible sky, which documents the visionary artist Trevor Paglen as he attempts his most daring project to date; Woman, an unlimited feature about Tamworth’s apostate ‘Queen of Honky Tonk’; and Jane Castle’s When the camera stopped scrolling, a gripping look back at the work of her pioneering mother, Lilias Fraser.


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There are also a number of international documentaries to choose from, including When a city rises, an urgent and enlightening bid for the latest pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; as well as The first 54 years: an abridged handbook for military occupation, which is a step-by-step guide to colonial occupation through the lens of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Wild man in harsh nature from 'Gaia'

Gaia is an ecological horror fantasy in which Mother Earth seeks revenge on humanity. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

The horror

For people looking for scares, be sure to check out Gaia, a visually stunning apocalyptic eco-thriller from South Africa, and Beta testing, where a Hollywood agent is subjected to an existential nightmare after a secret sexual encounter.

Man looking through the window at scene from 'ShoPaapaa'

ShopPaapa simulates the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown experience, seen through the eyes of its physically compromised protagonist. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

Something different

Enthusiasts of experimental cinema should look at ShoPaapa, which was made entirely externally by Australian filmmaker Molly Reynolds and British creative Shekgar Bassi; and driving petals, a self-funded ‘alternative drama’, directed by Clara Law, comparing her modern life to the lives of those who came before her.

Man in the kitchen on stage from 'Wild Indian'

Nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize Wild Indian is a new kind of thriller noir. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

Fresh voices

The ‘First Nations’,’ Europe! The programs ‘Voices of Women in Film’ and ‘Screenability’ together show the rich diversity of perspectives that the international film industry has to offer.

Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., who deals with issues of identity and assimilation, jokingly portrays the consequences of a decades-old murder in Wild Indian.

In her directorial debut, Isabel Lamberti mixes fact and fiction The last days of spring to explore the situation of a family facing deportation from a Madrid hometown.

With a talented cast, more than half of whom live with a disability, Best summer ever is a new spin on the classic teen musical genre, directed by Michael Parks Rand and Lauren Smitelli.

Two women with bicycles in a scene from The Fantastic Journey of Margot and Marguerite

Margot and Marguerite’s amazing journey is a charming comedy adventure. Photo: Sydney Film Festival.

For children

Too little cinematic family fun, Margot and Marguerite’s amazing journey is a time-traveling odyssey that follows two girls transported to different eras via a mysterious hidden coffin.

For more family-friendly adventures there Felix and the Hidden Treasure, a tale of a 12-year-old boy, accompanied by a ragtag team of explorers, on a quest to find his missing father.

Jimmy Bernasconi, a loyal supporter of the Cinema Church, lives for nothing but the screen. You can catch Jimmy on The Multiplex every Wednesday morning on ABC Radio Canberra, or listen to Sacred Cinema wherever you get your podcasts.

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