Festival: The Sydney Film Festival

Denmark

Big Time

Directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

As a kid, Ingels considered the flat roof on his parents’ house to be a waste of space – with considerable potential. His attitude to urban design was clearly in place from the start. Ingels’s projects in his homeland (VM Houses, Mountain Dwellings and 8 House) gained him international acclaim, with their focus on liveability and renewables. His tradition-defying and wholehearted approach – “there is nothing more amazing than building buildings” – secured him his largest project yet, the new World Trade Center. Ingels, tagged “one of the design world’s biggest stars” by The Wall Street Journal, relocates half his company to NYC. Award winning artist-director Schröder captures the acceleration in Ingels’ already hectic life, and the architect’s struggles to balance ambition, health and relationships.

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Dream Empire

Directed by David Borenstein

Chongqing’s property surge attracts 24-year-old Yana with promises of wealth and privilege. She opens an agency to provide Chinese real estate developers with ‘white monkeys’: foreigners who attend openings, dressed in costume, sometimes performing (badly). From the laughable ‘Britishville’ to the world’s largest aquarium complete with mermaids, it’s all intended to demonstrate progress and prosperity, but tellingly most of the developments are empty. Yana struggles to reconcile this ruthless absurdity with her rural roots. Borenstein (a rent-a-foreigner himself) calls his film an insider’s view and an outsider’s perspective on “the biggest building boom in human history”. Winner, top prize at the Thessaloniki International Documentary Film Festival.David Borenstein

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A Modern Man

Directed by Eva Mulvad

You could be forgiven for mistaking Charlie Siem for James Bond. Whether he’s driving an orange Porsche to his cliff-top Monaco mansion, ordering martinis or looking suave in a designer suit, he is a man on a mission. It isn’t to hunt down SPECTRE, but to find perfection in everything he does. Whether it’s performing on stage, recording albums, or selecting a suit, Charlie demands the best, of himself and others. Despite an entourage dubbed ‘Charlie’s Angels’, he’s lonesome, and complains that people can’t relate to him. Danish filmmaker Eva Mulvad (The Good Life, SFF 2011) with patience and panache delves into this life of privilege to find commonalities of ambition and desire.

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The War Show

Directed by Andreas Dalsgaard, Obaidah Zytoon

DJ Obaidah Zytoon and her friends weren’t overtly political; rather they were young and eager to change their world. When they took to the streets to protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, cameras in hand, they were full of hope. But, as The War Show so poignantly reveals, their dreams fade as extremism, violence and wrongful imprisonment take hold of their community. Zytoon joined forces with Danish documentarian Andreas Dalsgaard (The Human Scale, SFF 2013; Life is Sacred, SFF 2015) to craft years of footage into a deeply personal narrative, one that reveals the human face of this devastating conflict, and won Göteborg’s Best Nordic Documentary and Venice Days’ Jury Prize.

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Wolf and Sheep

Directed by Shahrbanoo Sadat

Winner of the top prize at Cannes Director’s Fortnight 2016, Wolf and Sheep is set in rural Afghanistan, where simple village life is enlivened with stories of mystery and imagination. Our view into this timeless community is through its children, who mimic the adults in their gossiping and lewd language. Boys and girls don’t mix but, defying the rules, outsiders Qodrat and Sediqa develop a beautiful friendship. Using a cast of non-actors, Sadat has created a unique view of Afghanistan replete with all the mundanities and difficulties of life, but also with myth and magic: tales are told of a wolf who walks on two legs, discarding its skin to emerge as a beautiful green fairy.

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Finland

The Other Side of Hope 

Directed by Aki Kaurismäki

A great humanist filmmaker, Kaurismäki is a champion of the underdog. His amusing, thoughtful films frequently depict difficult situations in society, and people coming together to help each other. It is just such a community of people he portrays in his marvellous new film. Khaled, a young Syrian refugee, arrives in Helsinki as a stowaway and applies for asylum. Meanwhile, travelling salesman Wikström decides to change his life and invests in an unprofitable restaurant. When the authorities deny Khaled’s application for asylum, he decides to stay on illegally, and it is then that he meets Wikström outside the restaurant. After a minor disagreement, Khaled is hired to work in the restaurant and finally finds some refuge, but it’s far from permanent. Kaurismäki says that the film is an attempt to shatter the “way of only seeing refugees as either pitiful victims or arrogant economic immigrants invading our societies.” With his unique sense of humour and fundamentally optimistic vision of the world, he achieves a great deal more than that.

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Sweden

Sami Blood

Directed by Amanda Kernell

Elle Marja is a 14-year-old girl growing up in 1930s Sweden at a time when the indigenous Sámi people were highly discriminated against. Elle is bright and ambitious, but finds herself stymied. When she is humiliated at her school and forced to endure race biology examinations, she becomes determined to build a new life for herself. To do so, she will have to take on a new identity, one that distances herself from her community and her culture. Lene Cecilia Sparrok is astonishing as the conflicted young woman in this very powerful debut by Amanda Kernell, which is inspired by the life of her grandmother.

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