Sydney Film Fest 2023: Films Made by Women – Nadine Whitney reports

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Gender parity at major festivals is slowly improving and the 2023 Sydney Film Festival is no exception to this welcome and necessary development. In 2023 SFF decided to feature New Zealand/Australian director Jane Campion’s work as a centrepiece. JANE CAMPION – HER WAY showcases Campion’s work from early shorts to her award-winning The Power of the Dog. The strand also includes the documentary Jane Campion, The Cinema Woman by Julie Bertuccelli and Campion in conversation with critic David Stratton. JANE CAMPION – HER WAY will be showing in numerous other Australian cities as part of the retrospective.

An important programming strand is EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM. This strand introduces Australian audiences to debut features by women from a variety of countries including Italy, Iceland, Finland, Greece, Denmark, The Netherlands, Mexico, and Switzerland.

The Girl from Tomorrow (Primadonna) by Marta Savina, a film based on a true case which challenged the Italian law of matrimonio riparatore in which a woman who was raped was pressured to marry her rapist so that his crime would be expunged.

Behind the Haystacks (Piso apo tis thimonies) by Asimina Proedrou is a morality tale about a Greek family who get involved with Syrian refugee trafficking across the Doiran Lake. It is a sturdy film about xenophobia, hypocrisy, and the immeasurable cost when human lives are treated as currency.

That Afternoon (Die Middag) by Dutch-Iranian director Nafiss Nia brings together two Iranian refugees at a point of crisis in both of their lives. Can their differences and similarities bring hope of a better life for both of them?

Band, written and directed by Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, is a hilarious and heartfelt documentary/mockumentary about Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir’s Icelandic electro-punk band The Post Perfomance Blues Band. Investigating artistic endeavours in the face of the pressures of motherhood and work commitments, Band has a lot to say about taking your shot for the big time.

Other films in the strand include:

  • Family Time by Tia Kouvo a Finnish comedy of manners.
  • Thunder by Swiss director Carmen Jaquier, a period set coming-of-age drama that investigates religion and womanhood.
  • The Quiet Migration from Denmark directed by Malene Choi which is a meditation on what home means to Korean adoptees in European countries.
  • Sunlight by Irish director Claire Dix which is a melancholy yet funny ode to friendship.
  • Ehla a German film by Milena Aboyan which looks into the Kurdish strictures regarding virginity and marriage.

The documentary section shows that documentaries are a place where women’s voices are heard more frequently than in fiction films. Of particular note is the Australian premiere of Estonian director Anna Hints’ Smoke Sauna Sisterhood and Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters. Also essential is Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir’s The Mother of All Lies which uses dolls and miniatures to investigate El Moudir’s family’s experiences in the 1981 Casablanca Bread Riots. In the Screenability section is Ella Glendining’s witty, wise, and furious documentary Is There Anybody Out There? in which Ella goes on a five-year journey to discovery people with a similar condition to her rare disability.

There are several Australian documentaries directed by women that are of note including Brenda Matthews’ The Last Daughter, Rachel Ward’s Rachel’s Farm, The Carnival by Isabel Darling, and Gillian Moody and Adrian Russell Wills’ Kindred.

What is quite disappointing is the lack of new Australian fiction features directed by women. Australian born director Alice Englert’s Bad Behaviour will be in competition and the festival is also showing Diana Reed’s Run Rabbit Run. However, there isn’t a strong representation of women’s voices in Australian film in the strand.

The international fiction strand is robust with women directed features. A small selection includes Tina Satter’s Reality, Celine Song’s Past Lives, Justine Triet’s Palme D’Or award-winning Anatomy of a Fall, Charlotte Regan’s Sundance hit Scrapper, Mel Eslyn’s Biosphere, Chandler Levack’s Canadian coming-of-age dramedy I Like Movies, A.V. Rockwell’s A Thousand and One, Georgia Oakley’s Blue Jean, and Jessica Hausner’s Club Zero.

In conclusion, although there is excellent gender representation especially in the documentaries section, and adequate representation in the International fiction features and shots section, SFF 2023 could have paid more attention to Australian women filmmakers especially in the fiction features section. Australian festivals exist as incubators for many young talents and SFF 2023 while acknowledging first nations voices and queer voices in a full-bodied manner, it could still improve its gender inclusivity with local features.

SFF runs 7 – 18 June 2023.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.