The Antenna Documentary Film Festival returns from 9 February 2024 at Sydney’s Ritz Cinema, Dendy Newtown, and the State Library of NSW.
The annual documentary film festival, first established in 2011, handpicks documentary shorts and features from all over the world to showcase the possibilities of the genre.
Over ten days, Antenna will screen films, hold seminars, talks, panel discussions and Q&A sessions. There’ll also be an industry conference (DocTalk), professional development programs (Rough Cut Lab) and awards with cash prizes.
Here are our must-watch picks of the non-fiction film festival:
Antenna Documentary Film Festival program picks
Synopsis: When May is involved in a freak accident on a rollercoaster ride, she and her sister Kari decide to buy a home in the small Swedish town of Gullspång. However, once they meet to finalize the purchase, they are confronted with a shocking revelation that turns their lives upside down – the seller looks identical to their older sister Astrid, who committed suicide some thirty years before. Adding to the mystery, the seller shares the same unique nickname as the deceased sister. It is at this point that filmmaker Maria Fredriksson, at the behest of the sisters, begins to investigate this strange history, uncovering secrets and eerie mysteries of a bizarre family story. Replete with comically awkward situations and one engrossing revelation after another, this darkly comedic family drama is an astounding and cleverly structured exploration of serendipity, faith, social divisions, family ties, and personal identity.
Synopsis: Both in its unabashed confessional interviews and its propulsive visual style, Kokomo City is an electric portrait of the inner lives of four Black trans sex workers in America. The central quartet — Liyah Mitchell, Dominque Silver, Koko Da Doll, and Daniella Carter — narrate their own specific journeys navigating Blackness, sexuality, and gender while charting their own path to achieving their dreams for the future. Told with a candid vulnerability, their stories deliver unpredictable bouts of humor and raw humanity, packing the film with mile-a-minute insights into their everyday lives and undidactic observations on contemporary social constraints. An Audience Award winner at both Sundance and Berlinale, Kokomo City vibrates with energy, music, sex, challenge, and hard-earned wisdom.
Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of radical feminism, Aboriginal land rights, and widespread social upheaval, ‘Memory Film: A Filmmaker’s Diary’ is a ‘road movie’ of sorts, tracing its maker’s three-decade-long inner journey towards liberation. Adopting the lenses of psychotherapy and Eastern spirituality, and incorporating footage from Thornley’s earlier works, this hyper-intimate opus contemplates sexual politics, the pleasure and pain of motherhood, and the desire for a world free of war and colonisation. With a sweeping score by Egyptian-Australian multi-instrumentalist Joseph Tawadros and inspired by silent cinema, Thornley’s ‘Farewell film poem to life’ unfolds with haunting tactility: along with the celluloid’s visible grain, there are shots of foliage, forests, fronds of hair, fingers on skin. Thornley allows the personal to intrude on the societal, challenging established narratives and foregrounding both impermanence and the inexorable passage of time. The result is a lovingly crafted cine-poem on resistance, legacy, and carving out one’s place amid constant transformation.
Synopsis: Acclaimed for his uncompromising approach, Wang Bing, one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, captures the daily dramas of young migrant workers in the Chinese textile industry. Cancelling the distance between viewers and protagonists, while carefully avoiding imposing any rhetoric, Bing dives into chronicling the lives of hard labour. What emerges is a vivid portrait of not only a regional economy, but also the love, tenderness, and friendship experienced by its young textile workers. These 20-year-olds have migrated from their hometowns to work for a period of time in the sweatshop capital of China. They share everything. They stay and eat in common dormitories, meet in corridors or on balconies, and above all, spend 15 hours a day at work with the constant hum of sewing machines forming the soundtrack of their destinies. A mosaic of young lives made, Youth (Spring) is the first chapter of a three-part documentary and is yet another masterpiece by Wang Bing.
Synopsis: In Flipside, Chris Wilcha grapples with all the second-guessing that comes with middle age. He digs into his lived experience – career stops and starts, documentary films begun and abandoned, cross-country relocations, and his attempt to save a secondhand record store – to weave an emotional reckoning with his state of being. The result is a comic yet deeply moving and profound film about ambition and motivation, desire and creativity, and the inescapable existential dread that accompanies the realisation that time has passed faster than we could have believed possible.
Synopsis: With the film’s first image of a lone elderly man trekking through an untouched snowy landscape, we sense that director Margreth Olin is taking us somewhere special. That promise is fulfilled repeatedly in this stunning cinematic experience, which, with its artistry, has won the support of executive producers Wim Wenders and Liv Ullman. The man is Olin’s 84-year-old father, who invites his daughter to join him to explore the mountains around his hometown. Jørgen guides us through breathtaking vistas of glaciers, waterfalls, and fjords, leading us through Norway’s most scenic valley. This is the place he grew up, where generations have lived in harmony with nature, even when the earth’s primordial forces have shown their most merciless side. But not even the most rock-solid mountain is unchanging – and certainly not in times like ours. Songs of Earth is a majestic symphony for the big screen.
Synopsis: Cowboy. Rebel. Survivor. Grandmother. You will never forget meeting Isla. Formidable grandmother Isla Roberts is adamant. She insists that although she is not a lesbian, her girlfriend Susan is. In this tender, richly humorous portrait of an 87-year-old horse carriage driving champion, we learn what makes an ordinary life extraordinary. Straight-shooting Isla’s lived experience of rural Australia, raising a family in severe economic hardship, and finally coming out later in life, all make for a poignant documentary of a woman who’s well ahead of her time and refuses to be put in a box. Director Marion Pilowsky tracks Isla for an eventful, cathartic year with empathy and incisiveness.
Synopsis: A truly enchanting trip, Berlinale winner Samsara is a sensorial experiment that invites the audience to experience the Buddhist concept of birth, life, death, and rebirth. It commences in Laos at a Buddhist temple, where dozens of young disciples apprentice alongside monks. One of them crosses the river daily to read a text to a woman who serves as a psychopomp. When her time comes to depart this life, her spirit embarks on the path of reincarnation. The story continues on the other side of the world, on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where we see a goat kid being born. But this only starts after filmmaker Lois Patiño presents the viewer with an awe-inspiring transitional section that can only be fully experienced with closed eyes. It transforms Samsara into more than a film—this is an unforgettable cinematic experience, which brings to mind the filmic world of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Synopsis: Justina inherits a mansion in the Argentine Pampas where she used to be the housekeeper—under one condition: that she never sells it. So begins a charming and poignant modern fairy tale as Justina and her daughter Alexia come to live in the big, old house, with more than 60 acres of land to their name but lacking the income they need to support themselves and keep the mansion in good condition. Visits from the former owner’s family bring to light old master-servant tropes, which Justina finds hard to break out of, and while she tries to find sources of income and navigate a long-distance relationship, her daughter dreams of returning to Buenos Aires to become a race car driver. With its outstanding score and intentional sense of humour, The Castle is a masterfully-crafted social drama, imbued with a surrealistic tone and a bewitching atmosphere.
The Best Australian Short Documentary Competition highlights the best documentary short films from across the country with a runtime of 30 minutes or less. Antenna has partnered with the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) to offer the winning filmmaker a cash prize of $5,000 as development funding for their next project.
For further information, and to purchase tickets, head to the Antenna Documentary Film Festival website.