Sydney Film Festival: A Mid-Way Review

Photographer: Belinda Rolland © 2022/SFF

We’re just over halfway through the 2023 Sydney Film Festival and, so far, it has lived up to the hype. With hundreds of films on offer as well as talks, events, and Q&As, it’s been a film fiend’s paradise!

Choosing from this year’s extensive line-up was ridiculously difficult. I eventually landed on a handful of films and decided that the only way I could stay sane was to pretend that the other ones simply weren’t happening. It’s a bit like contemplating the vastness of space – if I think about it too much, my brain may just implode.

I’m currently three films down with two to go. I might cave and book another couple of screenings before the festival ends on June 18 but, for now, let’s talk about the films I’ve already seen.

Biosphere featuring Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass

I got in early on the first day of the festival with a screening of Biosphere. With two recognisable actors at its core, this feature film was the most ‘mainstream’ of my choices. However, this end of days comedy starring Mark Duplass and Sterling K. Brown was anything but ordinary. I won’t tell you too much about the plot because the joy of this one is the twists and highly unexpected turns. But suffice it to say that this film about two childhood friends living in a bio-dome after a world-ending event is done to perfection. Both actors shine with layered, hilarious, sincere, and strangely relatable performances.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments and the actors’ chemistry is absolutely on point. The core message is important and meaningful but – because of the comedic performances and the absurdity of certain aspects of the story – it is not rammed down your throat. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s clever, funny, and an absolute joy to watch. If you don’t manage to catch it during the festival, it should definitely be on your list for when it’s eventually released in cinemas.

The Last Daughter, co-directed by Brenda Matthews

My next screening was The Last Daughter. This documentary follows Brenda, a Wiradjuri woman who was taken as a child and handed to a white family for several years. Although she was eventually returned to her biological family, the experience had a complex and life-long impact. 

As Brenda embarks on a journey to reconnect with her white family, she uncovers the truth behind her government-ordered abduction. Examining the emotional toll it has taken on Brenda, her mother, her siblings, and her white parents, The Last Daughter is a confronting and powerful story about the tangled web of injustices that first nations communities have endured – and still endure – in Australia. 

The Carnival by Isabel Darling

Last up was The Carnival, an observational documentary following a sixth-generation carnival family as they travel around the country. Shot over seven and a half years, it explores the ups and downs of showie life through bushfires, floods, and a pandemic. With a spotlight on the Bells – a charismatic and hilariously relatable family – this film is both fun and fascinating to watch. 

Giving us a peek behind the curtain, the documentary unveils the practical aspects of building, running, financing, maintaining, and packing up a show week in and week out. The heart of the story, however, is the family. From run-of-the-mill squabbles to the unique pressures of the showie lifestyle, The Carnival explores the impact – both good and bad – a life on the road can have on familial bonds and relationships.

I enjoyed all three films, albeit for very different reasons. Biosphere was a unique and hysterical journey to a bizarre reality; The Last Daughter was a moving story about injustice and human suffering; and The Carnival was a compelling look at a little-understood culture sprinkled with plenty of light relief. 

The Sydney Film Festival is on until June 18 so if you haven’t yet booked your tickets, there’s still time. Simply head to the website and get inevitably overwhelmed by the gargantuan mountain of ridiculously enticing options…

Sydney Film Festival runs in cinemas across Sydney from 7-18 June
Check out the full Sydney Film Festival 2023 program:
Tickets are on sale now!

About the author

Originally from Wales, Siri is a native Welsh speaker and bilingual writer living in Sydney. With a background in film and television production, particularly comedy, she loves to make people laugh - usually at her own expense. Siri writes about all sorts from film and restaurant reviews to marathon running and adventure travel. She loves pale ale and shiraz and is yet to meet a chocolate mousse she can’t devour in seconds. An intrepid adventurer trapped inside the body of a couch potato, there’s nothing Siri won’t try - but she can’t promise to be even remotely graceful while doing it.


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