Australia has a strong culture of cinema going’ Sydney Film Festival on Australian cinema, Documentary Filmmaking and the Importance of Festivals

With the Dendy Award and the Yoram Gross Animation Award, the 62th Sydney Film Festival has two awards that can bring your short film to the Oscar party. As an Academy-qualifying festival with an 156,000-strong audience, the Australian festival is a FFL partner festival you shouldn’t miss out on. Last year we met Festival Director Nashen Moodley in Berlin and he gave us the ‘3 Big Reasons for choosing the Australian Film Market and Sydney Film Festival‘. This time we had the chance to sit together with their Program Manager and Documentary Programmer Jenny Neighbour. Catching up inbetween two Berlinale screenings, we spoke with her about Australian cinema, documentary filmmaking and the importance of film festivals…


Jana Dietze, FilmFestivalLife: What are your plans for this edition? Is there anything new?

Jenny Neighbour: Sydney Film Festival has been very successful in attracting loyal and enthusiastic audiences who really like the program, so we don‘t want to change it too much. We want to keep doing what we do; screening good films. We always take on board what‘s going on in the industry – noting any big trends at festivals such as Berlin, Göteborg and Sundance, and considering those for our festival.

Your focus as a programmer is documentaries. Do you see any trends this year, like scripted-documentaries?

So far this year, there’ve been fewer of the more lyrical or essay-style films around, but on the other hand there have been quite a few documentaries that you might consider issues-based, but that stylistically aren’t straight forward or traditional. They are almost character studies in themselves; they take on an issue and craft a narrative from it.

Do you have any tips for documentary filmmakers?

Well, the documentary world is so wide-ranging and there’s such a diversity of subjects that’s it’s very hard to give anyone any advice. I think my preference is always when a filmmaker focuses a particularly acute eye on the character and you feel there is a rapport there. I think that‘s what often makes an audience go with the film more than they would if the filmmaker is too removed from the subject.

What do you do at festivals like the Berlinale, do you have meetings with filmmakers?

It‘s less about meeting with filmmakers at the Berlinale and more about taking the opportunity to meet with sales agents at the European Film Market. Of course, trying to fit in all the screenings and meeting is always bit of a challenge. I also attend CPH:DOX and IDFA and there is often more time to meet filmmakers there.

In the time of Internet and VOD. Why do you think we need festivals like Sydney Film Festival?

Australia has a strong culture of cinema going, and the Sydney public considers watching films as an opportunity to socialise as well as a cultural activity. They seem to enjoy the debate in the foyer afterwards, as much as meeting their friends. Sydney Film Festival will be sixty-two years old this year and there are some people who‘ve been going for most, if not all of them. They catch up with people at the Festival that they don‘t see the rest of the year. It also means that they see films that perhaps they wouldn‘t see otherwise. The films might not get a theatrical or an online release but our audience is not particularly interested in watching them that way, I think.

Berlinale is very similar in the sense that when you see the queues for tickets you notice there is a full cross section of people. Similarly at the public screenings, there isn’t just industry but a mix of both. Sydney is very similar. I think that’s what makes it such a vibrant event. Our main cinema is the State Theatre, a picture palace from 1929 with 2000 seats. It‘s a beautiful venue, and when it‘s full of guests on the edge of their seats with their eyes glued to the screen you get a sense that these 2000 people are sharing something very special. I think that sense of the shared experience is what’s missing when you watch something at home.

Why should filmmaker submit online through FilmFestivalLife?

FilmFestivalLife is very useful because it‘s really easy for filmmakers to read the criteria and enter the information before uploading their film. It‘s a very smooth process – with FFL we don’t only have a platform that allows us to view the films, but all the information relating to the films can be found in the same place. We upload this information to a database, which is then used to produce our program guide and to organise our screening and projectionist schedules. None of that information has to be retyped and reproofed, because it goes straight through the system. So it‘s a very easy process for everyone – much better than having tonnes of links or thousands of DVDs sprawled all over your desk!


Jenny Neighbour
Program Manager & Documentary Programmer
Sydney Film Festival

Jun 03 – 14, 2015
Sydney, Australia

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Late Deadline: Feb 27, 2015


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Read more of Jana’s articles

Jana Dietze

Jana Dietze is the Head of Communications at FFL. Her editorial background includes positions as Editor of N24 News channel and Editor of Fulmidas Media Agency. Her film experience is grounded in studying Film Science, Georg-August University, Göttingen. Reach her at jana(at)

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