Sydney Film Festival
Dates: June 5–16
Locations: Sydney. Some titles screen later in regional centres as the Travelling Film Festival.

German Film Festival
Dates: May 21–June 12
Locations: Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Byron Bay.

It’s film festival season again. Scrub that. These days there’s always a cinematic celebration or two running somewhere around the country, with events big, medium and small scattered throughout the calendar. If you wanted to launch a new one – and people keep having a go – then it would be hard to find a vacant slot.

We’ve already had this year’s ever-growing Alliance Française French Film Festival, rapidly followed by a Spanish event run by the cinema and distribution chain Palace, an Irish event in Melbourne and Sydney only, and in its second year, Cinema Reborn, devoted to classics in pristine prints, many of them recently restored.

The 3 Penny Opera

Meanwhile another major Palace event, the German Film Festival, runs from May 21 until June 12. This year’s program includes two films themed around Brecht’s celebrated The Threepenny Opera (the new Mack the KnifeBrecht’s Threepenny Film, and from 1931, The 3 Penny Opera).

Also screening is a documentary on Europe’s most influential 20th century design and architecture school (Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus), and an engrossing, perpetually unpredictable feature loosely based on the life of the artist Gerhard Richter. Its director is the man behind the acclaimed Stasi tale, The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (who intriguingly has received some blowback from Richter over certain details). Oscar nominated as best foreign language feature, Never Look Away vividly dramatises the challenges for an artist living under both Nazism and then Communism in the former East Germany aka the DDR.

Amazing Grace

In NSW, Never Look Away will premiere instead at Sydney Film Festival (June 5-16), which as usual features a number of potentially fascinating arts-related items. Prominent among them is the film I’m most looking forward to seeing. Amazing Grace is a documentary only recently constructed from footage of the late soul diva Aretha Franklin’s 1972 live church performances of gospel material that formed the basis of her sensational album of the same name.

The late filmmaker Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Out of Africa) had overseen the filming, but the project was abandoned due to major glitches in sound and image that have only now been corrected in a restoration deploying state-of-the-art digital techniques. In recent years we’ve seen a number of documentaries about late, great female vocal performers in the black American tradition – one on Amy Whitehouse, two on Whitney Houston, and all themed around personal tragedy. By contrast Amazing Grace focuses on a celebration of the world’s greatest singers at the peak of her powers. US reviewers have responded with near-unanimous raves.

Other music themed items include Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light, a fictional tribute to the music of Bruce Springsteen from a fan’s viewpoint, and docos on singer PJ Harvey (A Dog Called Money) and great Jamaican reggae singers (Inna de Yard).

This year sees no less than two retrospectives, both focused on female filmmakers. Congrats to the festival programmers for deciding on a season devoted to the wonderful French filmmaker Agnès Varda – excellent timing given they decided on this before the recent sad death of this pioneering member of the French nouvelle vague, who has never been granted adequate recognition for helping to kick off that vital new generation of filmmakers 60 years ago.

The other retrospective is a tribute to 10 “essential” Australian women directors starting with Paulette McDonagh’s recently restored The Cheaters (1930), moving through Jane Campion’s Sweetie and Gillian Armstrong’s High Tide and ending with the relatively recent and devilishly spooky The Babadook from director Jennifer Kent.


German Film Festival runs from May 21 – June 12 in collaboration with Palace Cinemas. Sydney Film Festival runs from June 5 – 16