Sydney Film Festival launches 2024 program – here’s what you should see

The Sydney Film Festival returns in June with a jam-packed program of local and international films, world premieres, and more.

The 71st Sydney Film Festival program was officially launched today, and it’s enough to get cinephiles and casual movie-goers alike salivating.

At first glance you’ll see some notable selections like Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, Kinds of Kindness, the world premiere of Aussie boxing drama Kid Snow, Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light (the first Indian film to appear in the Cannes Competition in 30 years), Lee Tamahori’s intense drama The Convert with Guy Pearce, The Bikeriders starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler and Tom Hardy, and recent top award-winners: Berlinale Golden Bear winner Dahomey and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Sujo. There are, of course, many more, and we’ve picked a handful of films that may spark your interest below.

‘The 71st Sydney Film Festival unfurls a canvas of bold narratives and remarkable visions, mirroring
the evolving dynamics of our world,’ says Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley. ‘This
year, we are proud to present films that challenge, entertain and provoke dialogue, from the
sweeping landscapes of Australian dramas to the complex human stories from global cinema.

‘The 2024 selection reinforces our commitment to fostering a diverse cinematic experience,
spotlighting works that engage with pressing social issues, personal stories and transformative
historical moments,’ he adds. ‘These films invite the audience to journey through myriad cultures
and experiences, reflecting the rich complexity of the human condition.

‘We invite everyone to join us in exploring this year’s exceptional films, participate in vibrant
discussions at The Hub, and share in the joy of cinema that unites us all,’ says Moodley.

Read: Australian Film Festivals: April to June 2024

In 2024, the festival will present 197 films from 69 countries including 28 world premieres and a whopping 133 Australian premieres, with more to be announced. The program is made up of 92 narrative feature films, including prestigious international festival prize-winners and 54 documentaries tackling contemporary issues, from established and emerging documentarians.

Opening night

The festival will open with the world premiere of Australian documentary Midnight Oil: The Hardest Line. Featuring previously unheard interviews with every band member, unseen live and studio footage, alongside signature moments like the outback tour with Warumpi Band, their Exxon protest gig in New York and the famous “Sorry” suits at the Sydney Olympics, this film traces the singular journey of Australia’s quintessential rock band across their 45-year career. Director Paul Clarke and members of Midnight Oil will attend opening night to present the film.

Our picks of the fest

The Moogai

Country: Australia

The haunting history of the Stolen Generations looms large in this psychological horror movie from Jon Bell (The Chuck In, SFF 2013). When successful city lawyer Sarah (Shari Sebbens) and husband Fergus (Meyne Wyatt) become parents for the second time, their joy is short-lived. Lurking in the shadows is a whispering creature that wants to steal their baby. Weaving the story of Sarah’s difficult family background into the nightmarish terror that begins to consume her, Bell delivers an eerie tale that unfolds at the intersection of primal fear, generational trauma and supernatural horror.

Read: New Australian films coming in 2024: movie releases

He Ain’t Heavy

Country: Australia

Jade (Leila George) has never been able to travel overseas. She’s too worried about her meth-addicted brother Max (Sam Corlett, Vikings: Valhalla), and is always on call to take him to hospital or provide first aid after he’s self-harmed. In desperation, she finally confines Max in a room inside the rural house left by their grandmother. But then Jade’s mother (Greta Scacchi) arrives, and she’s appalled that her son is caged like an animal. What follows is a tense, superbly acted chamber drama. Shot in Western Australia, He Ain’t Heavy is the debut feature of David Vincent Smith, based on his short I’m Not Hurting You (which played at SFF in 2019).

In Vitro

Country: Australia

With cattle production devastated by ecological disasters, Jack (Ashley Zukerman) and his wife Layla (Talia Zucker) are conducting biotechnology experiments at their isolated property. While Layla longs for the return of their son from boarding school, Jack carries out research he hopes will save his family from financial ruin. This feature from Aussie directors Tom McKeith and Will Howarth (Beast, SFF 2016) takes unpredictable turns as gloomy skies gather and the couple’s relationship begins to feel the strain. Filmed on the Monaro Plains of NSW, In Vitro is described as ‘claustrophobic, suspenseful and scarily believable’.

I Saw The TV Glow

Country: US

Two misfit teens bond over their obsession with a mysterious TV show, but have an identity crisis when it’s suddenly cancelled, in this Sundance and Berlinale sensation. With their second feature, Jane Schoenbrun (We’re All Going to the World’s Fair) creates a horror-tinged mood piece that’s ‘bound to inspire myriad interpretations and a devoted cult following’. A portrait of adolescent loneliness, gender dysphoria, parasocial relationships and social media fixation, I Saw the TV Glow should confirm that Schoenbrun is a serious talent. The soundtrack features Caroline Polachek and Phoebe Bridgers and an original score by Alex G.

Sasquatch Sunset

Country: US

The latest film from the Zellner brothers (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, SFF 2014) takes place somewhere in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, following a family of Sasquatches — the mythical creatures also known as Bigfoots. Performances by unrecognisable Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg bring the apelike creatures to life with grunts, gestures and other non-verbal means. The Sasquatches forage for food, build primitive shelters and mate amid stunning natural beauty. But after tragedy strikes, an unsettling, even apocalyptic mood takes over – and the family makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.


Country: US

Julio Torres (Los Espookys) plays himself as Alejandro, a zany, softly spoken Salvadoran chasing his lifelong dream of being a toy designer in the Big Apple. When he faces deportation after losing his job, he finds a new role as a PA to art world doyenne and dragon lady Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton). Beside handling her unrelenting demands, Alejandro must also navigate the Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that is the US immigration system before time runs out. Torres’ debut blends absurdist comedy with surreal visual flair and satirical commentary, with cameos from rapper RZA and Greta Lee (Past Lives, SFF 2023), and narration from Isabella Rossellini.

The Moon is Upside Down

Country: New Zealand

A mail order bride from Siberia, the lonely wife of a wealthy property investor and an anaesthetist looking for frisky fun are the central characters in this slice-of-life set around Wellington. New Zealand actor-filmmaker Loren Taylor’s debut contrasts life’s absurdities with our innate desire to form connections, seek happiness and maybe even make some sense of it all. Winner of the Best First Feature prize at Tallinn, the film’s cast includes Australian Victoria Haralabidou (ProsperThe Tourist) and Taylor’s Eagle vs Shark co-star Jemaine Clement (Nude Tuesday, SFF 2022).

Stress Positions

Country: US

It’s summer 2020, and nerves are fraying in the heat as gay divorcé Terry (John Early) squats in his ex’s Brooklyn brownstone. Armed with disinfectant spray, Terry is ready to fend off house callers such as his best friend Karla, who yearns to escape the monotony of isolation and has developed a keen interest in Terry’s 19-year-old Moroccan model nephew Bahlul (Qaher Harhash). Director Theda Hammel’s debut film captures the information overload of modern life, tackling everything from gender to surveillance to TikTok in a wickedly amusing COVID-era cocktail.

About Dry Grasses

Country: Türkiye/France/Germany

Samet (Deniz Celiloğlu) is completing his compulsory service as a teacher in a remote Anatolian village, where the winters are brutal and the monotony overpowering – he longs for a posting to Istanbul. Samet has a particularly close relationship with a 14-year-old female student, Sevim, who one day makes a serious accusation against him. At the same time, Samet is competing with his roommate for the affections of fellow teacher Nuray (Cannes Best Actress Award-winner Merve Dizdar). Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan was the winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or for Winter Sleep (SFF 2014).

My Stolen Planet

Country: Germany/Iran

Documentary. Born just weeks after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, director Farahnaz Sharifi’s experiences growing up were very different from those of her mother’s generation. The vivacity of the pre-Revolution years lingers on behind closed doors, as though the home is a different planet – but that freedom is increasingly curtailed. She tracks the public and private histories of women: from intimate footage of women singing and dancing, to public protests, including against the mandatory hijab in 1979. Sharifi narrates her own experiences, including the 2022 Woman Life Freedom uprising, which ultimately becomes an act of resistance and a turning point in Farahnaz’s life.

Alienoid and Alienoid: Return to the Future

Country: South Korea

Double feature. On present-day earth, human bodies function as prisons for alien captives. Six centuries earlier, magicians and sorcerers compete for the mystical Divine Blade, which promises power and riches. When a portal opens between these two time periods, a spectacular entanglement ensues. Director Choi Dong-hoon (The ThievesAssassination) has assembled an all-star Korean cast – including Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Woo-bin and Kim Tae-ri (The Handmaiden, SFF 2016) – for a saga of spectacular scale.

A Horse Named Winx

Country: Australia

Documentary. Winx is the Phar Lap of the modern era and holds the world record for her spectacular 33-race winning streak. Her first foal sold for a record breaking $10 million. It all reads like a racing fairy tale, but the story behind the phenomenon is more complex. With unprecedented access to Winx and the team who made her a champion, award-winning director Janine Hosking (Mademoiselle and the Doctor, SFF 2004; 35 Letters, SFF 2014; I’m Not Dead Yet, SFF 2011) and Winx biographer, Andrew Rule, weave a cinematic journey to reveal the spirit of a champion as she faces her greatest challenge.

Read: A Horse Named Winx: first look at new Australian doco

Life is Beautiful

Country: Norway/Palestine/Qatar

In 2014, Mohamed Jabaly – a Gazan filmmaker in his twenties – travels to Tromsø as part of an exchange program. Set to be there for a month, he tours the region talking about his work and joyfully experiencing the snow. But then Egypt’s Rafah border-crossing closes unexpectedly and he is stuck, unable to return home. Jabaly candidly documents his years-long exile – the visa struggles, community support and filmmaking endeavours – and deep longing for home and family. The result, Life is Beautiful, is a powerful condemnation of the fallout from war and conflict.


Country: US/Germany

Troubled teen Gretchen (Hunter Schafer) is forced to relocate to Bavaria with her distant dad and his new family. Wanting only to return to the US, she begins work at a resort owned by alarmingly eccentric entrepreneur Herr König (Dan Stevens). After hearing screams in the dead of night and encountering time-warps, Gretchen suspects this weirdly retro-modern place is catering to much more than the tourist trade. Directed by Tilman Singer (Luz, 2018).

Ten Canoes (restoration)

Country: Australia

The legendary David Gulpilil narrates this unique mix of docudrama and myth making, telling the film’s story-within-a-story with great charisma and humour. Gulpilil was also the driving force behind the production, inviting director Rolf de Heer to the far north to collaborate with Yolngu creatives and actors. Gulpilil’s son Jamie stars in a dual role: as Dayindi, a young man learning how to make bark canoes and hunt geese in the wetlands; and as Yeeralparil, the subject of an old parable of jealousy and its consequences. The cinematography, alternating between striking black-and-white and lush colour, creates a sense of oral history coming to life.

The Cats of Gokugu Shrine

Country: Japan/US

Documentary. Kazuhiro Soda’s latest film is set in the region where he also filmed Oyster Factory (SFF 2016) and Inland Sea (SFF 2018). It’s a mesmerisingly beautiful location for this tale of feline-human interaction. Tabbies, gingers, calicos and other breeds lounge around the “Cat Shrine” receiving food from visitors. The community is largely tolerant, but the volume of cats and people is beginning to intrude on the serenity of this spiritual environment and a new approach is needed. Soda lived on the island for years, and his intimate familiarity with the locality enables him to capture every detail of this world.


Country: Sweden/Denmark/France/Türkiye/Georgia

To fulfil the dying wish of her sister, retired teacher Lia (Mzia Arabuli), sets off on foot to find her estranged niece, Tekla, who fled Georgia at a young age crossing the border to Türkiye. Before she leaves, Lia gets a lead from the cocky Achi – who also desires to run away. The unlikely duo set off with little money and only each other for support, to navigate the vibrant, cobbled streets of Istanbul’s queer district. This is a road movie, and a journey of reconciliation, instilled with an exploration of marginalised communities abandoning a place that doesn’t accept them.


Country: Australia

Shot in black-and-white, Jaydon Martin’s directorial debut is part documentary about day-to-day life in coastal Queensland – with a cast playing themselves – and part dream-like narrative. A former drug addict whose life has been marked by tragedy, the frail Cass leaves Sydney and heads back to Bundaberg to take stock of his life. Religion helps console him, while drinking and partying help pass the time. Most touching of all is a budding friendship with Andrew, a Chinese-Australian chip shop owner who is dealing with his own grief. Observational and contemplative, heartwarming and eerie, Flathead is a memorable portrait of regional Australia.

The Sydney Film Festival runs from 5 to 16 June 2024. For more information, head to the SFF website.

Silvi Vann-Wall is a journalist, podcaster, and filmmaker. They joined ScreenHub as Film Content Lead in 2022. Twitter: @SilviReports