Documentaries at the Sydney Film Festival – June, 2017

As always, OzDox in June is all about the documentaries at the SFF. Here’s a comprehensive list!

A is for Australian documentaries! This year’s Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Best Australian documentary features ten exceptional new Australian productions: Barbecue (dir: Matthew Salleh); Blue (dir: Karina Holden); Connection to Country (dir: Tyson Mowarin); Defiant Lives (dir: Sarah Barton); Hope Road (dir: Tom Zubrycki); In My Own Words (dir: Erica Glynn); The Last Goldfish (dir: Su Goldfish); PACmen (dir: Luke Walker); The Pink House (dir: Sascha Ettinger Epstein) and Roller Dreams (dir: Kate Hickey). Elsewhere in the program you’ll find the world premiere of Kriv Stenders’ The Go-Betweens: Right Here and films from the Sydney women’s movement of an earlier era in our retrospective Feminism & Film: Sydney Women Filmmakers, 1970s & ‘80s.


B is for Black Lives Matter, at the heart of Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated passionate documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, based on the writings of James Baldwin and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson; DAF contender Roller Dreams; Sundance winner Step, a vibrantly entertainingly film set in a Baltimore school, and; festival guest Nick Broomfield’s Whitney ‘Can I Be Me’.


C is for Cuba, a country undergoing profound change, documented in a series of short films entitled Connection, Great Muy Bien, and House for Sale. Another Cuba-featured title is Elian, executive produced by Alex Gibney, the story of a Cuban boy rescued off the Florida coast who becomes the focus of a custody battle.


D is for the democratic process, with films set in South Africa (The Giant is Falling), India (An Insignificant Man) and the USA (PACmen). Screening in our Australian documentary competition, Sarah Barton’s Defiant Lives, the story of the rise and triumph of the disability rights movement.


E is for Europe! Voices of Women in Film: our program of films by European women filmmakers includes two documentaries, Ama-San (by Portuguese director Cláudia Varejão) and School Life (by Irish director and festival guest Neasa Ni Chianain). Outside of this special European focus we’re screening other titles by European filmmakers, including Eva Mulvad’s A Modern Man, and Vanessa Redgrave (Sea Sorrow) and Frankie Fenton’s It’s Not Yet Dark.


F is for Fowl People – not a Trump documentary, but passionate competitors in the Ohio National Poultry Show, the subject of the delightful Chicken People!


G is for Germany, and two exceptional documentaries: Austerlitz from the brilliant Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, and Beuys: Art as Weapon, on the life and work of art iconoclast Joseph Beuys.


H is for Heroes: Helen Clarke, New Zealand’s first elected female Prime Minister, and the story of her campaign to become the first ever United Nations’ female Secretary-General (My Year with Helen). And then another New Zealander: Bruce McLaren: the subject of Roger Donaldson’s inspiring documentary, McLaren, on the man behind one of the greatest brands in international motorsport. A filmmaking hero, Laura Poitras, follows up her Oscar winning Citizenfour, with Risk – a portrait of Julian Assange. And then we have guitar heroes in Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World and local heroes organising adult literacy classes in In My Own Words.


I is for Idiosyncratic – novelist Michel Houllebecq in discussion with Iggy Pop (To Stay Alive – a Method); John Lydon of Public Image Ltd, aka Johnny Rotten, the focus of The Public Image is Rotten, and; screening in our Freak Me Out program, the unique Spookers – a special New Zealand theme park! And wait till you meet Madam Carmel, the owner of Kalgoorie’s last original gold rush brothel in The Pink House!


J is for James… Steve James, the Oscar winning director of Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, the story of the only bank indicted following America’s 2008 financial meltdown. And for James Baldwin, whose impassioned words are at the heart of the Oscar-nominated documentary, I Am Not Your Negro.


K is for Kurosawa, our 2017 retrospective selected by David Stratton, and screening alongside a documentary portrait of Kurosawa’s muse, Toshiro Mifune (Mifune: The Last Samurai).


L is for Lanzmann, the latest film, Napalm, from the renowned French filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann, now 91, straight from its Cannes screening.


M is for Mountain, screening at the State Theatre on the final weekend. Jen Peedom’s follow-up to Sherpa is an epic cinematic and musical collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. From mountain to Murajaga – the site of the largest concentration of rock art in the world on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula, and the focus of Tyson Mowarin’s Connection to Country.


N is for Neighbourhood: the focus of a number of SFF titles this year: Big Time (Danish architect Bjarke Ingels embarks on an ambitious New York project); Rocking the Foundations (a brand-new restoration of Pat Fiske’s 1985 documentary); Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (author and activist Jane Jacobs and her fight to preserve New York’s historic neighbourhoods); Dream Empire (western China’s real estate boom); The Opposition (the battle over a slice of Papua New Guinea paradise from Australian Hollie Fifer), and finally The Workers Cup, the giant construction site, home of thousands of migrant workers, that is Qatar as it prepares for the FIFA World Cup.


O is for Opening Night and the World Premiere of Warwick Thornton’s We Don’t Need a Map, an innovative look at Australia’s relationship to the Southern Cross. Just one of the 13 titles in this year’s festival by a First Nation filmmaker.


P is for Psycho – the focus of Alexandre Philippe’s 78/52, a fascinating analysis of the infamous shower scene in Hitchcock’s masterpiece.


Q is for Queer cinema: check out Chavela (the uncompromising life story of lesbian Latin American singer Chavela Vargas, screening in our Sounds on Screen program); Whitney ‘Can I Be Me’; The Last Goldfish, from Sydney-based Su Goldfish, and; Dries (on the Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten);


R is for refugees, a topic that is troubling filmmakers around the world from Europe (Vanessa Redgrave’s Cannes-selected Sea Sorrow) to Manus Island (Chauka Please Tell Us the Time), to Goteborg and Venice winner, The War Show, and major prizewinner at IDFA Nowhere to Hide. And don’t miss Tom Zubrycki’s Hope Road, premiering at this year’s SFF.


S is for Screenability, our new program of films made by filmmakers with disability, which includes the documentary, Lust for Sight, by Swiss filmmaker Manuel von Sturler: an autobiographical journey to find the origins of his encroaching blindness. Elsewhere in the program you’ll find films about the dilemmas facing a group of friends with Down Syndrome (The Grown-Ups) and the story of a young Irish filmmaker diagnosed with motor neurone disease who is determined to continue his career (It’s Not Yet Dark).


T is for Travel, Michael Glawogger was five months into a world trip, when he died tragically whilst filming – his long-time editor Moinka Willi has crafted his final footage into a striking documentary. Michael Winterbottom takes to the motorways of the UK in his fictionalised music documentary, On the Road.


U is for Underwater, the filming location for Chasing Coral, Jeff Orlowski’s vital documentary on the dire fate of the world’s coral reefs. Underwater and on the ice, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Hot Docs winning look at the anti-sealing movements impact on her Inuit community (Angry Inuk). Also shot underwater, Ama-San (in our European women filmmakers program) and Karina Holden’s world premiere, Blue.


V is for the Voyager space program, the subject of Emer Reynold’s critically acclaimed film (The Farthest) on the science project of the 20th Century. More stars can be found in our opening night documentary We Don’t Need a Map!


W is for Winners – we’ve plenty of award winners screening in this year’s program – from Sundance Last Men in Aleppo, Winnie, and Motherland; from IDFA Nowhere to Hide; from Hot Docs, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World; and Risk, the latest from Oscar winner Laura Poitras.


X is for Xenophile (well, I had to cheat at some point!), a person attracted to foreign peoples, cultures or customs, which surely must include the cult Slovenia group Laibach, whose trip to North Korea is covered in Liberation Day. See also Barbecue, a globe-trotting exploration of the world of open air cooking.


Y is for You Have No Idea How Much I Love You, a masterful documentary Pawel Lozinki capturing a three-way conversation between a mother, her daughter and a psychotherapist.


Z is for a very special zoo, the only one on the Palestinian west bank, and home to the remarkable and dedicated veterinarian Dr Sami, and his cavalcade of cute creatures – featured in Waiting for Giraffes – the film that kicks off our daytime subscription program on 8 June at the State Theatre.