SFF2016: Vampire mermaids, tickles, Pop – 10 films to see at Sydney Film Festival

The Lure (Poland)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again. However, when it comes time to choosing from the list, it’s not an easy task, even for the most hardened cinema goers. After all, the festival represents 244 films from 60 countries, and it’s impossible to see them all. It won’t stop us from trying, of course.

The list below is a collection of 10 films we recommend, based partly on our own choices for the 12 days in June, and partly on the reputation of some winners of giant festivals and awards ceremonies around the world. Feel free to share your own attendee lists and thoughts in the comments below.

A full program can be found at sff.org.au. Tickets are on sale now. You can follow our full coverage on the site. We’ll see you at the cinema.


Australia’s Ivan Sen follows up Mystery Road with rare triple threat for SFF: an Australian, Opening Night film that is also playing in competition (against 11 other international films). Aaron Pedersen reprises his role as troubled Indigenous detective Jay Swan. Trying to track down a missing person, Jay winds up in the small mining town of Goldstone, and is promptly arrested for drunk driving by young local cop Josh (Alex Russell). This one is already getting a lot of buzz, and it’s making its world premiere at the festival. While the Opening Night is now sold out, it’s playing an additional 3 times throughout its SFF run, so there’s few excuses to miss the next chapter in this homegrown franchise.


We loved Meek’s Cutoff when it played at the SFF 2011, and director Kelly Reichardt has since gone on to helm the fascinating Night Moves. Her latest effort re-teams her with Michelle Williams, who was the star of Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy, alongside Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart. Reichardt’s films are always connected to the American landscape, the quiet and more thoughtful counterpart to Cormac McCarthy’s nihilistic view of the same vistas. Clear your mind and your schedule for this one.

Certain Women


File this one under the ‘needs to be seen to be believed’ category, for a film that doesn’t seem to want us to know exactly where it’s going. New Zealand journalist David Farrier delves into the unseen world of tickling competitions, but winds up discovering more than he bargained for, facing threats to his life and more madness even this trailer barely scrapes the surface of.


Two words: vampire mermaids. Described as a “romance-horror-mermaid-musical,” and naturally screening as part of the “Freak Me Out” program, Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska’s film won the Special Jury Award for Unique Vision and Design at Sundance 2016. Unique appears to be the operative word here, in what is sure to be one of the most talked-about nighttime entries at SFF.


Australia’s Craig Anderson (Double the Fist) makes his feature film debut by dipping into a Christmas horror film tradition that also includes Silent Night, Deadly Night. Starring horror legend Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling and Cujo), this is the kind of cult film that will be doing the home media circuit for years, built on the classic notion of someone defending their family from a demented stranger. Wallace, of course, has had experience with strange visitors in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.


Undoubtedly one of the darlings of the film festival circuit, Xavier Dolan‘s movies practically come pre-selected on festival programs. For good reason too: he made his autobiographical feature debut, I Killed My Mother (SFF 2010) at 20-years-old, and his follow-up, Heartbeats, won the Sydney Film Festival Prize back in 2010. Once again in Competition this year at SFF, it comes directly from Cannes 2016, starring Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux.

It's Only the End of the World


Possibly the most talked-about film of the festival so far, most likely due to the pure childlike joy elicited from seeing Harry Potter’s farting corpse being ridden across the ocean waves by Paul Dano. It led to some walkouts at Sundance when it screened earlier this year, but nevertheless won the Directing Prize for Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (who are simply known as DANIELS collectively). The DANIELS are probably best known for their music videos for the likes of The Shin’s “Simple Song,” Battles “My Machines,” several Foster the People tracks and Passion Pit’s “Cry Like a Ghost.” Check out the trailer below, or better yet,don’t watch it and discover what this film is about as it goes.


Thomas Vinterberg’s films (The HuntThe Celebration) are guaranteed to frustrate and challenge audiences, and Trine Dyrholm’s win for Best Actress at the Berlinale only heightens our anticipation for this. It promises to be a touching look at the perils and perks of living a communal life, something Vinterberg himself did from the age of 7 to 19.


We can’t help but be worried about Iggy Pop. He’s 69 and has just had this documentary made about him, by no less a talent than Jim Jarmusch, in a year when musicians and actors are tragically dropping like flies. Nevertheless, another film coming directly from Cannes, this is one Jarmusch has described as both an “essay” and a “love letter” to The Stooges, as Iggy himself relates the immediacy of the era around hits like ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘Search & Destroy.’

Gimme Danger (The Stooges)


Our final, but in no way least choice, Ireland’s Paddy Breathnach goes undercover in Cuba as he follows Jesus (Héctor Medina), who is attempting to steal the spotlight from some local divas. This is a film that we won’t be sashaying away from.

More films

Other films that are filling up our dance card include all of the competition films, which are a great way to get a broad brush-stroke of the award winning films from around the world. Of those, THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER won Best Debut Feature and Best Director at the Veince International Film Festival last year, and it stars Robert Pattinson. Boo Junfeng’s APPRENTICE comes direct from Cannes, where it is screening in Un Certain Regard. We’ve also selected a few other films as highlights in our original post on the program announcement. Some of the other highlights from our personal list of screenings includes KIKI, the winner of this year’s Teddy Award at Berlinale; LOVESONG, the new film from For Ellen director So Yong Kim (and starring indie favourites Jena Malone and Riley Keogh); and Germany’s FUKUSHIMA, MON AMOUR, about a German woman who moves to the ravaged area and meets Fukushima’s last geisha.