13 Films You Must See at Sydney Film Festival 2019

It’s almost time for the annual Sydney Film Festival (5th – 16th June), stretching almost a fortnight across Sydney’s best cinemas – including the historic State Theatre – with a hugely diverse program of films from around the world. There’s almost too many gems to get through this year, so we’ve compiled a list of our top-picks to help guide you through all that excitement.

The Nightingale

On paper, The Nightingale is a clear departure from the horror genre found in Kent’s debut. But, make no mistake, this is a film that will still horrify an audience, albeit in an entirely different way. With its unflinching depiction of savage violence against women and Australia’s Indigenous people, The Nightingale is a difficult film to endure (there were a few walkouts in Adelaide). It will shock you, but that’s precisely the reaction she expects. A revenge thriller overflowing with blood, rape, and death, this is one of the most confronting films of the year and one that will leave a lasting impression.

Tixie Mattel: Moving Parts

Taking a glimpse behind the make-up, wigs, and rhinestone-covered outfits, Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts offers an intimate and revealing portrait of the behind-the-scenes life of a drag queen. For those of us still gagged at her victory over Shangela during season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, this documentary could turn the tide on the backlash Trixie still suffers for her unexpected win. Showcasing the talent and determination behind the outrageous performer we see on stage, this doco promises to highlight how drag is more than just glitz and glamour and is actually a dizzying mix of soaring highs and crushing lows. Can I get an amen?

High Life

Acclaimed director Claire Denis brings her unique vision to the sci-fi genre with a twisted thriller that could prove to be a modern masterpiece. Continuing his daring and dazzling post-Twilight career, Robert Pattinson plays an “introvert convict on a penal starship who comes to grips with convict-doctor Juliette Binoche’s bizarre, controlling sex games and her mad-scientist experiments with human reproduction.” Can you really resist a plot like that? A passion project that’s been permeating in Denis’ mind for 15 years, this one could be divisive as all hell, but therein lies the fun.

The Third Wife

Described as an erotically charged tale of forbidden love and female oppression, Vietnamese writer/director Ash Mayfair’s feature-length directorial debut has been making its mark ever since its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.

Acclaimed for its beautiful artistry, its peerless performances from its female cast of newcomers and veterans (Nguyễn Phương Trà My and Trần Nữ Yên Khê respectively) and its understated examination of its controversial subject matter, The Third Wife is sure to be a hit for those who want to learn more about the beauties of Vietnamese cinema.

Children of the Sea

Following on from last year’s SFF anime treat, Mirai, we have another fantastical, colourful and gorgeous film that was selected for the Contrechamp Competition at the prestigious Annecy Festival, from director Ayumu Watanabe, the director of Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Dinosaur and Space Brothers.

With a beautiful story about friendship, young love, a strong environmental message and an established cast of acclaimed Japanese talent (including child actress Mana Ashida, acclaimed thespians Yu Aoi and Min Tanaka; and Win Morisaki, best known in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One), Children of the Sea sounds like a film that’s bound to make a big splash.

The Dead Don’t Die

The greatest zombie cast ever disassembled. Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez, and Tom Waits in a comedic zombie-apocalypse film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. Do we really need to say more. Coming to us straight from its world premiere as the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival, The Dead Don’t Die promises to be all sorts of deliciously ridiculous fun with a hefty dose of blood, gore, and, of course, lots of laughs. And, hey. This one won’t receive a wide-release in Australia until October 24, so catch it now and insufferably gloat to your friends for four whole months.


A new film from acclaimed South Korean director Bong Joon-ho is always a momentous event but what makes his latest project, Parasite, special is how the film looks to hearken back to the themes of Bong’s first feature project, Barking Dogs Never Bite, in terms of how local and tragically comedic the premise is.

A change of pace from big-budget blockbusters like Snowpiercer and Okja, Bong collaborates with fellow actors Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Jo Yeo-jeong and Choi Woo-shik in what is sure to be a sadistic treat.

Note: Director Bong Joon-ho will also be attending the festival, introducing the screening as well as the Meet the Filmmaker session.

One Child Nation

Following on from her acclaimed feature-length film debut, Hooligan Sparrow, co-director Wang Nanfu (who is now a first-time mother) goes back in frightening, controversial territory in her new documentary, One Child Nation.

Examining the dark corners of Communist China, Wang and co-director Zhang Jialing attempt to unmask the tightly held secrets of China’s one-child policy and, in so doing, free the voices of millions irreparably harmed by the practice by how relentless propaganda has brainwashed and terrorized countless Chinese citizens into committing unspeakable crimes against fellow villagers and family members.

For those who have seen Hooligan Sparrow and how Wang had confronted Chinese government agents, One Child Nation is sure to rile audiences with its revelatory insights.

A Dog Called Money

In a tour of “foresaken places” AKA Afghanistan, Kosovo and a disadvantaged neighbourhood in DC, musician and poet PJ Harvey brings a probing curiosity. This is a look behind the scenes at the artist’s 2016 album, “The Hope Six Demolition Project.” It looks just like what you’d get if Patti Smith fronted a Louis Theroux documentary. Just sayin’…

MYSTIFY Michael Hutchence

This is a hotly anticipated documentary from “Dogs In Space” director Richard Lowenstein about the inimitable rock star, Michael Hutchence. The INXS front man was always a charismatic romantic and this film is a collection of rarely seen footage and home videos. To take a leaf out of the band’s songbook… it’s just what you need.

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

A Nobel prize winner and a lauded director walk into a bar… The result is a playful blur of a film documenting Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour from 1975. This revealing film tells us all exactly what happened on tour… and the famous folkie is joined by a who’s who of creative minds in supporting roles. Think: Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Patti Smith, Mick Ronson, Emmylou Harris and Allen Ginsberg to name a few.

Amazing Grace

An unreleased film of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 concert shows how this woman received her crown as the Queen of Soul. Accompanied by the Southern Californian Community Choir, Franklin delivers a spine-tingling show that draws heavily on her gospel roots. RESPECT.

The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps

Martin Phillipps is to The Chills what Robert Smith is to The Cure. The eccentric bandleader and mastermind of the beloved Dunedin band is the subject of a fascinating rockumentary. It is a fitting tribute to a beloved band as well as a disarming look at his personal struggles.

For all information, trailers, a complete schedule, and tickets head to sff.org.au.

Feature image: High Life.

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