The Official Competition was established in 2008. 12 Films are selected for consideration. Past winners of the Sydney Film Prize were Hunger (Steve McQueen), Bronson (Nicholas Winding Refn) and Heartbeats (Xavier Dolan). The 12 honoured films this year are listed after the jump:
Screenwriter/Director: Fernando Leon De Aranoa
Laced through with twisted black comedy and subtle social critique, Fernando Leon de Aranoa's (Monday in the Sun) film about the plight of an immigrant worker living in Spain wickedly subverts the slice-of-life drama and ultimately packs a punch that is scathingly funny as it is devastating.
Screenwriter/Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Attenberg, set in a Greek factory town by the sea, follows 23-year-old Marina (Arien Labed, Winner: Best Actress 2010 Venice Film Festival), an unpredictable creature whose isolated habitat and limited human interaction have led her to mimic the repetitive behaviour of animals featured in the David Attenborough documentaries she so hungrily devours. Her world is shaped by her father, a modernist architect whose health is decaying, and her promiscuous friend Bella.
*Athina Rachel Tsangari will be attending her screenings as a guest.
Screenwriter/Director: Mohammed Diab
Mohammed Diab's bold, uncompromising debut feature film tackles the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt - a subject veiled in collective silence - with a rigorous eye for everyday detail, a potent serve of anger and a deliciously wry sense of humour. The film is portrayed through the stories of three women and a sardonic, quick-witted detective.
The Forgiveness of Blood
Director: Joshua Marston
Buoyed by life and its possibilities, 17-year-old Nik is a carefree teenager on small-town northern Albania with a crush on the school beauty and ambitions to start his own Internet Cafe. His world is suddenly up-ended when his father and uncle become entangled in a land dispute that leaves a fellow villager murdered.
*Joshua Marston will be attending his screenings as a guest.
Screenwriter/Director: Miranda July
As peculiar and endearing as her Cannes and Sundance winning debut, Me and You and Everyone We Know, July's second feature film follows Los Angeles couple (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) who decide to live out their dreams in the 30 days before their freedom is curtailed by the arrival of a newly adopted cat Paw Paw - the film's narrator.
*Miranda July will be attending her screenings as a guest.
Screenwriter/Director: Tran Anh Hung
Tran Anh Hung (Cyclo) brings a perfectly honed outsider's eye to this delicate, visually ravishing adaptation of Haruki Murakami's lyrical best-selling novel. Set in the late 1960's when Tokyo universities were rife with political unrest, Watanabe (Kenichi Matsuyama) is a student whose deepening relationship with the emotionally fragile Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) is haunted by the spectre of a past tragedy. Features an evocative score from Johnny Greenwood, gorgeous production design and lush cinematography.
Screenwriter/Director: Asghar Farhadi
This utterly compelling, emotionally resonant drama from Asghar Farhadi - was awarded Best Film and both acting prizes for its superb ensemble cast at the Berlin Film Festival. Not exactly out-of-love, Nader and Simin are attempting to divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. They have acquired visas to emigrate from Iran - Simin is anxious to ensure a better future for their 10-year-old daughter, but Nader refuses to leave his elderly father who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease.
Screenwriter/Director: Julia Leigh
Julia Leigh - the award-winning Australian author of The Hunter and Disquiet - was mentored by Jane Campion on her filmmaking debut, an unsettling erotic fairytale selected for Official Competition at Cannes. Emily Browning is an alabaster perfection as Lucy, a university student working numerous self-afacing jobs. She is socially isolated from her housemates and fellow students and spends her limited free time ministering to the peculiar desires of her morbidly depressed best friend. Her strong-willed drift toward oblivion is anchored only by her need for money and she signs up with an exclusive lingerie club.
*Julia Leigh will be attending her screenings as a guest.
Screenwriter/Director: Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols' daring psychological thriller stars Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche, a working man living in small-town Ohio with his beautiful wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their young hearing-impaired daughter. When Curtis' recurring dream of an ominous storm becomes increasingly vivid, he fears for both his sanity and the safety of his family. Internalising his anxieties, his outward behaviour becomes progressively stranger to his wife and fellow workers, and then the hallucinations start to invade his life with terrifying consequences.
Director: Alexander Zeldovich
A dystopian spectacular set in 2020 Russia. The Russian economy is booming thanks to its vast mineral deposits and the busy Guangzhou-Paris superhighway. The political order is an 'ecological democracy' and social structures are rigorously maintained by an exam system that ensures that all citizens are correctly positioned in the hierarchy. Five members of the elite class travel to the Altai Mountains to an abandoned astrophysics plant - the Target - in order to expose themselves to cosmic rays which prolong life and rejuvenate the mind. Initially elated by the short term fix, the long-term impact sends them spiralling into decadence and destruction.
*Alexander Zeldovich will be attending his screenings as a guest.
Screenwriter/Director: Ivan Sen
The tiny community of Toomelah is made up of Gamilaroi and Bigambal people living in an old Aboriginal mission north of Mooree. This is the country where director Ivan Sen's mother grew up and his deep personal connection to the place is palpable throughout this confronting, brutally honest dramatic feature that draws its acting talent from within the community. Ten-year-old Daniel is a talented boxer like his father. Impatient with the other kids at school - except for his sweetheart Tanitia - he starts hanging out with Linden, the local dealer, who trains him up to be a gangster.
*Ivan Sen will be attending his screenings as a guest.
The Tree of Life
Screenwriter/Director: Terrence Malick
The elliptical narrative of Terrence Malick's rapturously beautiful, emotionally arresting film audaciously segues between the particular (the repressed desires and shimmering aspirations of the O'Brien's, a middle-American family in the 1950's) and the universal (the continuous cycle of existence, from the age of the dinosaurs to the new world). While young Jack (Hunter McCracken) must choose a path - between father (Brad Pitt) and mother (Jessica Chastain), competition and allegiance, success and happiness - old Jack (Sean Penn) has lost his way and is searching for permanence in a gleaming, chaotic modern city.
If you are attending screenings of any of these films, which one are you most anticipating? Of the five from the Official Competition I have tickets for, I am eagerly awaiting The Tree of Life, Sleeping Beauty and Take Shelter.