Film Festival

15 Docs you can’t miss at the Sydney Film Festival

We present a list of 15 documentaries worth watching at the Sydney Film Festival that will take place from June 8th – 19th in the beautiful city of Sydney (Australia).

A Girl in the River

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – Pakistan | 2016 – 39 min.

More than 1000 women are murdered in Pakistan each year by male relatives who believe the victims have dishonoured their families. Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary (she also directed Song of Lahore, SFF 2015), filmed in the Punjab region, tells the story of a rare survivor. Saba, a 19-year-old girl, was shot and thrown in the river by her father and uncle for refusing to marry her uncle’s brother-in-law. She survives, but securing justice is not that easy. Determined to put an end to these practices, Saba decides to tell her story to the world. Her courageous account, and the film’s Academy Award, galvanised Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to rethink honour killings. As the director says, “The power of storytelling is enormous.” Obaid-Chinoy’s first Oscar-winner, Saving Face, on the subject of acid attacks on women in Pakistan, will screen in this double-bill introduced by the filmmaker.

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06.12.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 – 6:30 pm

A Journey of a Thousand Miles

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers by Geeta Gandbhir, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – Pakistan, US | 2015 – 95 min.

The primary focus isn’t the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, but rather the struggles of the Muslim police officers who attempt to balance family and community expectations with their personal ambitions. Once in Port-au-Prince, with little training or experience, these mothers – and breadwinners – struggle with homesickness, stolen weapons and a volatile environment, which is only intensified when the UN mission is accused of spreading cholera. The filmmakers follow the women throughout their preparations, mission and eventual return home to Dhaka – where they face fresh challenges – providing a rare insight into the lives of modern Muslim women.

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06.13.2016 – State Theatre – 9:30 am
06.15.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 5 – 7:15 pm


Embrace by Taryn Brumfitt – Australia | 2016 – 90 min.

When body image activist Taryn Brumfitt posted an unconventional before-and-after photograph in 2013, it was seen by more than 100 million worldwide and sparked an international media frenzy. In her forceful debut, Brumfitt continues her crusade exploring the global issue of body loathing. She travels the world to interview an impressive range of women about their attitudes to their bodies, including: Mia Freedman, the youngest ever editor of the Australian edition of Cosmopolitan; Adelaide researcher Professor Marika Tiggemann; UK talk show host/photographer Amanda de Cadenet; body image blogger Jess Baker (a.k.a. The Militant Baker); and motivational speaker Turia Pitt.
(This documentary competes for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award)

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06.12.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 4 – 6:05 pm
06.16.2016 – Hayden Orpheum Cremorne – 6:15 pm

Fire at Sea

Fire at Sea by Gianfranco Rosi – Italy, France | 2016 – 108 min.

At first, the camera follows a local boy, intent on making a slingshot. Gradually we meet other locals: a radio DJ, a fisherman, and a doctor. Their existence on this isolated island is coloured by tradition, with stories of lives at sea and haunting folk songs. Against this enduring backdrop, the traumatic arrival of countless migrants from Syria and beyond is made even more shocking. Director Rosi films the patrol boats on their harrowing mission: to find the ramshackle boats before they sink, process the traumatised survivors and manage the fatalities. A Venice Golden Lion winner for his documentary Sacro GRA in 2013, Rosi won Berlinale’s top prize for this compassionate and lyrical depiction of a community and a humanitarian disaster.

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06.17.2016 – State Theatre – 4:25 pm
06.19.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 8 – 5:15 pm

In the Shadow of the Hill

In the Shadow of the Hill by Dan Jackson – Australia | 2016 – 98 min.

In an effort to guarantee security for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazilian authorities embarked on a controversial program to recapture territories controlled by drug traffickers. In November 2011, an elite police squad (the notorious BOPE) moved into Rio de Janiero’s largest slum, Rocinha. Amid reports of police brutality, local man Amarildo de Souza disappeared; he was last seen in custody. Fired up, the community start a protest movement that becomes a game changer. Debut feature director Jackson, who lived in the community for over a year, tells this momentous story through interviews with de Souza’s family, activist lawyer Joao Trancredo, and favela residents.
(This documentary competes for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award)

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06.17.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 6:15 pm

Lampedusa in winter

Lampedusa in winter by Jakob Brossmann – Austria, Switzerland | 2015 – 95 min.

The island has become the focus of the world’s attention since it became a destination for asylum seekers escaping conflict in Africa. Only three kilometres wide and closer to the North African coast than Sicily, Lampedusa is home to around 6,000 Italians. The inhabitants are battling a lack of infrastructure and a declining fishing industry, while overwhelmed by the influx of refugees. The determined local mayor is lobbying for a new ferry, their crucial link to the mainland, as locals trawl through the shipwrecks piled high on the shore, finding sad fragments of lives lost. Filmmaker Jakob Brossmann sensitively crafts a picture of the windswept island that goes far beyond the usual media reports.

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06.10.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 3 – 6:30 pm
06.19.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 3 – 10:00 am

Lo and Behold

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World by Werner Herzog – US | 2016 – 98 min.

Herzog tackles this ambitious topic in 10 chapters; beginning with the birth of the phenomena in a drab University of California room, continuing through themes such as hacking, addiction, online harassment, and artificial intelligence. His interviews with pioneers, experts, geeks and other visionaries are frequently downright playful, despite the often chilling content. He explores everything from computer games and self-driving cars to cellular-free zones and artificial intelligence with his trademark scepticism and curiosity. And finally, Herzog confronts the future with probing questions about the role that the Internet itself will play in shaping society’s morals and dreams.

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06.08.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 8 – 6:15 pm
06.09.2016 – State Theatre – 3:55 pm

National Bird

National Bird by Sonia Kennebeck – US | 2016 – 92 min.

Daniel, Lisa and Heather were all employed on a secretive American drone program, where they identified and tracked targets on the other side of the world. This documentary provides a vivid illustration of their unsettling work, including a detailed re-enactment of a 2010 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 23 civilians. The fallout is intense. Heather’s job watching live video left her with PTSD. After talking to the media, Daniel is terrified of being prosecuted for treason. Meanwhile, Lisa, who mistakenly thought by enlisting that she’d be on the right side of history, travels to Afghanistan to visit the maimed victims of a strike. Fans of eye-opening documentaries won’t be surprised to hear that National Bird was executive produced by factual greats Wim Wenders and Errol Morris.

06.11.2016 – Dendy Newtown – 4:15 pm
06.15.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 8 – 8:10 pm

Oyster Factory

Oyster Factory by Kazuhiro Soda – Japan, US | 2015 – 145 min.

The small town of Ushimado is home to Watanabe, a former resident of Miyagi, who was forced to relocate after the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear contamination. He runs the Hirano Oyster Factory, and is planning to take over the family business from its elderly owner. Shucking oysters is a hands-on operation, carried out in timeless fashion by workers perched on a wooden floor. To combat the shortage of labour, since the local population is disinterested and declining, Watanabe decides to bring in Chinese labourers to help out. With his gentle approach, lilting images and a friendly cat, filmmaker Soda has crafted a rewarding and insightful examination of a shifting world.

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06.12.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 8 – 3:00 pm
06.18.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 12:20 pm

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe by Ros Horin – Australia | 2015 – 85 min.

Aminata, Rosemary, Yordanos and Yarrie are four remarkable and brave women from different parts of Africa. All fled violence and sexual abuse in their homeland to find a safe haven in Australia. Until they decided to join a theatre workshop, they had never spoken of their traumatic experiences. Under the guidance of theatre director Ros Horin, the four women collaborated on a project based on their life stories. The result was a joyous and triumphant stage show that travelled from Sydney to Europe. Horin’s uplifting film debut charts their personal journeys, from trauma to healing, to the stage, with equal parts affection and profound admiration.
(This documentary competes for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award)

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06.09.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 6:00 pm

The Opposition

The Opposition by Hollie Fifer – Australia | 2016 – 74 min.

The setting for this David-and-Goliath battle is the stunning peninsula of Paga Hill on Papua New Guinea’s Port Moresby harbour – the paradise everyone wants to claim. Joe Moses, leader of the Paga Hill settlement, must save 3000 people before they are evicted. Battling it out in the courts, Joe may find his four generation-old community replaced with an international five-star hotel and marina. In telling this probing story, Hollie Fifer’s documentary highlights the massive gap between law and justice.

*The filmmakers have been forced to censor their film following a decision from the New South Wales Supreme Court to injunct parts of the footage pending trial. A redacted version of the film will feature narration over the censored footage by Australian actress Sarah Snook.

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06.13.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 6:20 pm

The Road

The Road by Zhang Zanbo – China, Denmark | 2015 – 95 min.

The road in question is being built across a peaceful valley in Hunan, the province where Chairman Mao was born. The film, spanning four years and presented in chapters, first documents the villagers forced to leave their homes; even the local temple is relocated. Then, Zhang films the construction workers, mostly migrants, forced to toil long hours in hazardous conditions for very little money. Finally, he follows the management team as they negotiate with the Communist Party and local authorities. With unprecedented access, Zhang reveals the corruption and violence that surrounds this mega-project. As the director suggests, the title doesn’t just refer to Xu-Huai highway, but also the road that China is taking.

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06.09.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 3 – 6:20 pm
06.18.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 – 10:00 am

Under the sun

Under the Sun by Vitaly Mansky – Russia, North Korea | 2015 – 106 min.

The Russian filmmaker was given unprecedented access to the country only if he allowed regime officials complete control of the script. Supposedly a documentary about an ordinary Pyongyang family in the lead-up to the supreme leader’s birthday, the film was scripted by Korean officials who also chose the locations and cast the participants. Undeterred, Mansky found a way to circumvent their propagandistic intentions. By leaving his camera constantly running, he captures the truth and the artifice. We know exactly what the ‘ideal family’ has been instructed to do and say. With minders watching like hawks, Mansky shoots orchestrated, often laughable, scenes that ultimately reveal the true nature of the dictatorship.

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06.11.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 11:50 am
06.18.2016 – Dendy Opera Quays Cinema 2 – 11:50 am

Zach's Ceremony

Zach’s Ceremony by Aaron Petersen – Australia | 2016 – 96 min.

Ten-year-old Zach enjoys fishing and boxing with his dad Alec, and is looking forward to his initiation ceremony. It’s a vital part of his Indigenous heritage, marking the transition from boyhood to manhood. Growing up isn’t easy, and for Zach there are the added pressures of racism and city living – a long way from his father’s community in Far North Queensland. An Aboriginal activist, leader and actor, Alec is a devoted dad, but his strict parenting inevitably causes friction. Shot over six years, this is a remarkable portrait of a young man struggling with identity and his father’s expectations, as he heads towards adulthood.
(This documentary competes for the Documentary Australia Foundation Award)

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06.11.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 7:10 pm

Zero Days

Zero Days by Ale Gibney – US | 2016 – 114 min.

The central topic of Gibney’s non-fiction thriller is the phenomenon of Stuxnet, a self-replicating computer virus. Apparently commissioned by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, the virus infected its target but also multiplied, spreading rapidly and uncontrollably. The Iranians were then able to hit back with malware on major American institutions. Gibney takes us into a covert world, where no one wants to go ‘on record’, despite their very real concerns for the future. Referencing cyberwarfare investigator David Sanger of The New York Times and documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the powerhouse filmmaker spells out in no uncertain terms the virus’ apocalyptical potential.

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06.13.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 4 – 4:15 pm
06.19.2016 – Dendy Newtown – 6:00 pm

Other Documentaries you can’t miss!!

Life Animated

Life, Animated by Roger Ross Williams – US, France | 2016 – 91 min.

Owen Suskind was a chatty toddler, but at three years old everything changed. As his parents explain, he ‘vanished’ into autism. Eventually, the only thing that seemed to connect with Owen was watching Disney movies. Then one day, his father (an author and journalist), with an Aladdin character puppet on his hand, asked him, “What’s it like to be you?” Astonishingly, Owen replied with a line from the movie. Over time, convinced that their son was channelling movies to make sense of the world, his parents began to use Disney dialogue to communicate. The family’s remarkably inspiring story is told through interviews, home videos and original animations, with excerpts from classic Disney titles.

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06.18.2016 – State Theatre – 4:15 pm
06.19.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 4 – 11:00 am


Kiki by Sara Jordeno – Sweden, US | 2016 – 94 min.

The ‘Kiki’ scene is highly competitive; you need to be dedicated, on form, and willing to practise endlessly. Kiki follows young black LGBTQI participants as they compete for trophies and titles, including dance-offs between feuding houses (House of Amazura and the House of Unbothered Cartier, for example). The interview subjects openly reveal their troubles and discuss their hopes and dreams. 25 years after the award-winning documentary Paris is Burning (Kiki has been tagged the ‘unofficial sequel) much has changed, but homophobic attacks, poverty, and discrimination continue to threaten the queer community. As house mother, community organiser and homeless LGBTQI youth activist Twiggy says, “There is so much left to fight for”.

06.10.2016 – Dendy Newtown – 8:40 pm
06.11.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 8 – 3:50 pm


Sonita by Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami – Germany, Switzerland, Iran | 2015 – 91 min.

Sonita, an undocumented exile, lives in Tehran with her sister and young niece. The teenager dreams of being a superstar rapper, an ambition at odds with the Iranian regime and Afghani traditions. Sonita’s long-unseen mother pays her a surprise visit: she’s decided to sell her daughter as a bride, so they can buy her brother a wife. At this point, the film’s director Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami takes a pivotal role in Sonita’s life – firstly by deferring the wedding plans, and then entering her into an online rap competition. Sonita’s fate hangs in the balance. This is an absorbing look at the evolution of a teenager from dreamer to budding activist, which simultaneously calls into question the role of a filmmaker.

TRAILER (will open in another window)

06.12.2016 – State Theatre – 4:25 pm
06.14.2016 – Event Cinemas George Street 9 – 6:30 pm

To confirm schedule hours and to get more information please visit the official webpage of the festival here: Sydney Film Festival

You may find interesting to know which are the 10 Short Films and 20 Movies you can’t miss this year at the Sydney Film Festival.

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