Ten Films You Need to See at the 2019 Sydney Film Festival

The Sydney Film Festival line up has launched, and it’s as extensive and exhaustive as you’d ever expect. As is the case with this being one of the major, most prestigious festivals in Australia, there’s more films than you can shake a proverbial stick insect at. With a dive into the work of the late, great Agnes Varda, and an exploration into the work of many of Australia’s great women directors, there’s a clear nod given to women filmmakers the world over.

But, as expected with a list of about, oh, 250 films, it’s hard to know where to even start. Yeah, there’s some major festival high lights that might get your ears tingling (High Life, The Dead Don’t Lie, Danger Close, I Am Mother), but these are all films that you’ll be able to see somewhere, somehow, down the line. So while it’s nice to be able to see major films before everyone else, it’s also worthwhile reminding that hey, part of what makes film festivals so darn good is the fact that there is going to be a wealth of films that will only ever be screened at the festival, and in turn, are only ever available at the festival.

To try and do my bit, and help provide some kind of guidance as to what is worthwhile seeking out, here is a list of ten films that you should definitely try make time for at this years Sydney Film Festival.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

As the Australian Financial Review once gloriously stated: ‘World is Fukt’, and if the recent UN Report is to go by, it’s more than just ‘fukt’, but it’s well and truly destroyed. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is the work of three directors (Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky), who join together once again to explore the devastation of mankind on the world. From burning elephant tusks, to mines in Russia, this is one film you don’t want to miss on the big screen. Sure, it’s depressing as fuck, but it’s impressively depressing.


If you happened to miss Tracey Moffat’s Bedevil at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year, then you have another chance to catch this unique, great slice of Indigenous cinema at the Sydney Film Festival. Now, this one is on my shame pile, and it’s mostly because it’s been so darn hard to find. But, thanks to David Stratton, who is working with this years festival to provide a ‘David Stratton Selects’ program, where he has selected ten films directed by trailblazing Australian women, Bedevil is given another chance in the spotlight.

The Cheaters

Where Bedevil looks at an almost forgotten slice of Indigenous cinema, Paulette McDonagh’s The Cheaters provides audiences with a glimpse of Australian silent cinema. Many people forget that Australia had a booming silent film industry, one that was inevitably harmed by the unavoidable reach of Hollywood. Outside of The Sentimental Bloke, The Story of the Kelly Gang, and a handful of other films, it’s arguable that many are simply unaware of Australia’s silent film output, and they’re certainly going to be unaware of the work of many women directors in the period. Paulette McDonagh worked with her sisters, Isabel and Phyllis, and The Cheaters is one of their surviving films. This is a rare, great opportunity to see Australian history in action.

Hail Satan?

Penny Lane directed one of the most fascinating documentaries of recent years, Nuts!, a film about a man who cures impotence with goat-testicles, so the mere presence of another film by her on a festival line up is enough to put her on the ‘must watch’ list. Hail Satan? is a look at the rise of Satanism in America, exploring how this controversial group intends to shake the grounds of ‘religious freedom’. I’ve heard nothing but great things about this film, and it’s likely to be another film (just like the next one on this list) that tells a bigger than life story, one that can only be true.

The Kleptocrats

I don’t know anything about the story that The Kleptocrats covers, but after reading a short synopsis, where some $3.5 billion goes missing from a Malaysian wealth fund, and having everything from real estate to the financing of the Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street thrown into the mix, well… holy shit am I interested. Especially given the name of the scandal is the ‘1MDB scandal’, and my movie focused mind can’t help but think that IMDb really messed up this time, The Kleptocrats looks like it’d be a jaw dropping event of a film.


The Lord of the Flies is one of the most vital, devastating exposes of masculinity. Amanda Kramer’s film Ladyworld plants eight teenage girls in a house, trapping these birthday party celebrators in the house after an earthquake. Deep in survival mode, the girls have to survive the devastation from the earthquake – and themselves. Transforming the idea of William Golding’s classic book into the world of teenage girls sounds ripe for thematic vibrancy.  


Look, if cinematic endurance tests are you thing, then you really can’t go past Sátántangó – a seven and a half hour black and white masterpiece by one of cinemas most celebrated filmmakers, Béla Tarr. This is a film that’s been on my ‘to watch’ list for a long while, and given the easily distracted nature of watching epic films at home, there’s no better opportunity to strap yourself in and pay attention to this masterwork than at this years Sydney Film Festival. If I was going, this would be top of the list.

Standing Up for Sunny

Australian cinema has had a fair few romantic comedies over the past decade (I Love You Too, Not Suitable for Children, and of course, Top End Wedding), so it’s nice to see another one on the pile. This one stars Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte as a down on his luck bloke who – through chance and circumstance – teams up with stand up comedian Sunny (Philippa Northeast) to help her deal with hecklers. Standing Up for Sunny looks to be charming, entertaining, and a nice breath of fresh air amongst a sea of somewhat less than uplifting films.

Suburban Wildlife

There has been no shortage of stories about Sydney-siders living their lives, with Suburban Wildlife adding to the ever growing catalogue. This is one is written and directed by debut filmmaker Imogen McCluskey, and if the response from Cinequest Film Fest is anything to go by, this is one that’s well worth seeking out. Sure, it’s another story about suburban people living their lives, but the familiarity of these stories isn’t any reason to avoid films like this. If anything, it’s another reason to seek out Suburban Wildlife, to see how a new voice views the world of suburbia.

The Wind

The Western genre is– just like the sci-fi and horror genres – one that is drenched in masculinity. Stories about life on the frontier is so often about men, directed by men, and written by men, so when a film like The Wind comes along, it should peak your interest. Written by Teresa Sutherland, and directed by Emma Tammi, this is a look at what happened to the women of the frontier world who were left to fend off the homestead while their men were off being cowboys. Again, you don’t see stories in the Western genre from a woman’s perspective often, so if you’re a fan of that genre (and it appears this one has a dash of horror in the mix too), then do not miss this.

So, that’s my list of ten films you should seek out at this years Sydney Film Festival. There is a wealth more films in the line-up (up to 250 films people), so head on over to the schedule and get booking now, as some films are already selling out.  

Andrew F Peirce

Andrew is passionate about Australian cinema, Australian politics, Australian culture, and Australia in general. Found regularly talking online about Sweet Country, and reminding people to watch Young Adult.

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