Serious cinemagoers in the capital cities can hardly fail to have noticed the burgeoning number of film festivals dedicated to a single nation (Russia, France et al) or region (Scandinavia, Latin America).

If there’s a downside to this largely happy state of affairs it’s the creeping feeling of overload, and the sense that when the number of international titles becomes a flood curating standards are being diluted. Many fine films are screened at these festivals among many, alas, of lesser interest, which means working out what to see can be alarmingly hit-and-miss.

While the same applies to a degree to larger events such as Melbourne and Sydney film festivals, these institutions’ curating standards tend to be more rigorous, wide-ranging and likely to include work of aesthetic ambition. More commercial work isn’t excluded, indeed it’s an important festival role to preview and provide a forum for discussion of some of the more significant independent releases of the coming year. But these items – already owned by local distributors – are also balanced by riskier programming including features by rising new talents and documentaries on esoteric-sounding but fascinating subjects.

This year’s Sydney Film Festival,...

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