Sweaty kitchens, hairy beasts and mutant cows: Sydney Film Festival returns

We’ve handpicked ten intriguing tickets to snap up before they sell out and you’re crying over stale popcorn. Stephen A Russell is here with some Sydney Film Festival highlights.

Opening with a banging music documentary about the Beds Are Burning rockers Midnight Oil, the 71st Sydney Film Festival has unveiled a many-headed beast of a beautiful program. Trying to sift through the riches and select your chosen few can be overwhelming.

Don’t worry! We’ve got your back with this curated collection of ten glittering options.

A Different Man

Sebastian Stan casts off the Marvel lycra and dons prosthetics to portray reclusive actor Edward, a man with neurofibromatosis who undergoes experimental surgery to remove his facial tumours in their Berlinale Golden Bear nominee. But is this casting ok these days?? A question very much at the forefront of indie filmmaker Aaron Schimberg’s darkly surreal comedy, co-starring Under the Skin actor Adam Pearson as fellow thespian Oscar. He’s competing with Edward for the attention of Worst Person in the World star Renate Reinsve’s emerging playwright, Ingrid, and things get complicated.

In Vitro

If you can’t get enough of Australian horror’s wicked resurgence recently, snap up tickets for this twisted dystopian thriller from directorial duo Will Howarth and Tom McKeith. Shot on the Monaro Plains, the action’s set on a cattle station in the not-too-distant future ravaged by environmental collapse. But will meddling with genetics save Succession actor Ashley Zukerman’s farmer Jack and his wife Layla (Talia Zucker)? Or will nature strike back?

Sasquatch Sunset

Superman villain Jesse Eisenberg and Daisy Jones & The Six star Riley Keough are instantly recognisable, right? Wrong. Not in this surface-level absurd comedy from brothers Nathan and David Zellner that’s actually a profoundly moving treatise, Attenborough-style, on our destruction of natural habitat, as seen from the grunting, rutting, non-verbal perspective of a family of hairy Big Foots pushed to the edge. You’ll be amazed at how much you care.

The Mountain

Hunt for the Wilderpeople scene-stealer Rachel House, a Ngāti Mutunga, Te Ātiawa and Ngāi Tahu woman, marks her directorial debut with this family-friendly adventure executive produced by Taika Waititi. Centred on fearless young Māori girl Sam, she’s determined to beat cancer, heading to the sacred dormant volcano Taranaki Maunga, picking up unlikely partners in lonesome Mallory and ferocious Bronco along the way.

La Cocina

Can’t wait for season three of The Bear? Well, satiate your hunger by diving into The Grill, a ferociously popular Manhattan restaurant where the kitchen staff are always under the pump. The stakes/steaks are raised during a fateful lunch rush when Raúl Briones’ undocumented cook Pedro is accused of stealing in this thrillingly stylish, black-and-white-shot social drama from Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios, one that also casts Rooney Mara as Pedro’s partner, waiter Julia.


It felt like the hearts of everyone in Australia broke when the Matildas crashed out of the semi-finals of last year’s Women’s World Cup, too cruelly defeated by England. So, any doco about the women of the beautiful game is a no-brainer, right? For sure, but you’ll get more than you bargained for with Rachel Ramsay and James Erskine’s eyebrow-raising film that lays bare the astoundingly foul behaviour of FIFA, who bent over backwards to erase all knowledge of the very first Women’s Cup, held in Mexico in 1971!

Stress Positions

Is it too soon for a comedy about lockdowns? Not according to this queerly beloved Sundance charmer, marking the feature debut of trans filmmaker and Nymphowars podcast co-host Theda Hammel. Search Party lead John Early plays newly divorced Terry, holed up in his ex-husband’s Brooklyn Brownstone and having a breakdown while also looking after his teenage nephew Bahlul (Qaher Harhash). Hammel also stars as his hectic bestie Karla in a film that gleefully pushes all involved over the edge.


Belfast-based, Irish-speaking, UK government-battling rappers Móglaí Bap, DJ Próvaí and Mo Chara play themselves in this riotous biopic about the band’s founding that also features two-time Oscar-nominee Michael Fassbender (plus a cameo by controversial former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams). A cage rattler, in other words, and one that brought home an audience award from Sundance, no less. Behind all its pill-popping bravado is a clarion call to preserve the Irish language.

No Other Land

Picking up both an audience award and the Documentary prize at this year’s Berlinale, this searingly powerful documentary about the illegal occupation of West Bank community Masafer Yatta earned Israeli director Yuval Abraham death threats. The filmmaker was accused of being anti-Semitic because he called for a ceasefire in his acceptance speech and pointed out that Palestinian co-director Basel Adra does not enjoy the same freedoms.

Wake Up

Troublemaking Montreal-based filmmaking trio RKSS—AKA siblings Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissel, plus François Simard—brought delirious joy to the end of the world in Turbo Kid. Prepare for shit to get heaps darker when this vicious slasher rips into a bunch of environmental activists who break into the wrong global superstore warehouse, facing down with a security guard who takes his job way too seriously, in spectacularly gory fashion.