Film festival to screen 325 films from 65 countries over 12 days

Actress Anna Lawrence calls it "a very Sydney film, a very Bondi film". Then quickly adds: "I hope we don't offend anyone."

The oddly titled comedy Chocolate Oyster will bring the lives of twentysomethings living near the city's most famous beach to the Sydney Film Festival.

It centres on two waitresses who want the shiny lives they see on social media despite struggling to pay the rent.

Director Steve Jaggi, a Canadian who has lived in Bondi for the best part of a decade, calls the film "part observational, part social commentary, born out of the joy and frustration of living in Sydney."

Calling in favours to fund it, Jaggi shot the film like a black-and-white documentary, with Lawrence and Rosie Lourde improvising scenes they had only just been given — and with no idea of where the story was going.

"It was really exciting," Lourde says. "We'd just turn up on the day and figure out what we were doing."

Chocolate Oyster — the title refers to a dish created by a chef in the story — has its world premiere at the 65th Sydney Film Festival.

Director Nashen Moodley, who announced the full program at Sydney Town Hall, has selected another Australian film that has already attracted plenty of controversy.

The political satire Terror Nullius, which repurposes shots from other Australian films into a savage commentary about the country's treatment of refugees and women, was directed by New York-based sisters Dominique and Dan Angeloro, who call their video art collective Soda-Jerk.

Moodley had no qualms about programming Terror Nullius at this year’s festival.

“Festivals are the place for these sorts of discussions –  to show films that are controversial and provoke people,” he says.

What looks like a strong line-up of new Australian features includes the bikie thriller 1 per cent, directed by Stephen McCallum and starring writer-actor-rugby league caller Matt Nable; the black comedy Brothers' Nest from brothers Shane and Clayton Jacobson, who made their names with Kenny; and Ghosthunter, a documentary by Ben Lawrence, the son of Lantana director Ray Lawrence, about a western Sydney security guard who hunts ghosts.

Over the 12 days of the festival 325 films from 65 countries will be screened.

The festival's $60,000 competition for "courageous, audacious and cutting edge" cinema includes Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman; Australian director Benjamin Gilmour's Afghanistan drama Jirga, and American drama Leave No Trace from director Debra Granik (Winter's Bone).

WORLD PREMIERES

World premieres at the Festival include two Australian feature films, Benjamin Gilmour’s Jirga, and Chocolate Oyster.

OPENING AND CLOSING NIGHTS

The 2018 Festival opens with the Australian premiere of The Breaker Upperers, a side-splittingly funny New Zealand film from writers-directors-stars Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami. 

The comedy follows two cynical misfits earning a living breaking up unhappy couples for cash by faking deaths, impersonating cops and strippers, and feigning pregnancies.  Rising stars Van Beek and Sami will be joined by Australian actress Celia Pacquola to present their Opening Night film.

Closing the Festival is heart-warming indie comedy Hearts Beat Loud, starring Golden Globe winning Australian actress Toni Colette and Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman, about an ageing hipster dad forming an unlikely band with his reluctant, talented daughter played by Kiersey Clemons.

THE PROGRAM

The Festival’s diverse film program promises cinematic treasures to be discovered every day. From the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary, showcasing 10 exceptional Australian documentaries; to 15 big-ticket films in Special Presentations at The State.

There are also 120 feature films, including prize-winners from prestigious festivals around the world; and 57 documentaries tackling crucial contemporary issues, from the world’s most renowned documentarians.