Graffiti With Punctuation would like to thank Nashen Moodley, the Festival Director of the Sydney Film Festival, now in his second year following a cracking line-up last year, for taking the time to chat with us and extend warm congratulations on the preview announcement of this year’s exciting lineup. AB: It is fantastic to see Park Chan-wook’s neo-gothic thriller Stoker amongst the lineup. I know a lot of people who had their fingers crossed hoping they would get the chance to see it. Have you met Park by any chance and do you know what it was about this story that inspired him to make his first English language film?
NM: I am a big fan of his work. Joint Security Area is a masterpiece, and Oldboy and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance are great films. I believe he was approached to direct. There was a lot of excitement about the script when it was pitched, and he agreed to come on board.
AB: I believe that Wentworth Miller, the star of Prison Break, wrote the screenplay?
NM: Yes, but he pitched it under a false name, because he wasn’t looking to have his successful acting career have any influence on his script being picked up.
AB: Mia, Nicole and Matthew have all been involved in some great projects recently, with Mia becoming one of the most talented and sought-after young actresses in the world. It is exciting to see her broaden her range with this darker turn. Can we expect Mia or perhaps Nicole to be in Sydney for one of the screenings of Stoker?
NM: We hope so. We have asked them, but it will all depend on scheduling, so for now we just don’t know.
AB: Over the past twelve months you have been the source of envy for every film buff, attending the world’s biggest International film festivals – Toronto, Sundance, Berlin amongst them – to select films to screen at the Sydney Film Festival. Do you have any crazy experiences, or memorable meetings, that you’d be willing to share with us?
NM: It is actually less glamorous than you’d expect. At Sundance it can get down to -15 degrees and you’re trudging through snow and standing in long lines to see the films. But, seeing the films under those screening conditions, in the terrific venues offered and with a responsive audience, is great. I don’t see all of the films at festivals, some are watched in the comfort of my lounge room, but at these festivals it is always great to meet the filmmakers, some of whom I invite to Sydney.
AB: Do you have any specific criteria that you use to select the films you feel will fit into the Sydney Film Festival program? I’m sure there are a lot that don’t make the cut.
NM: I have no specific criteria, but I like to create a balanced program. I am often asked this question and I can only answer: the good ones. If a film is trying to achieve something – whether it is a screwball comedy or something else – than that is a film that I feel audiences will respond to.
AB: What impressed me about last year’s lineup was the diversity of countries represented in the lineup. We have some locally produced films, of course, but also a lot from little seen countries. For example I had never seen a film from Senegal until La Pirogue, which screened last year, and this year we have Wadja, the first feature film shot entirely in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Is this diversity something you actively pursue?
NM: The Sydney Film Festival has screened over 8500 films so it is very difficult to find countries that have not had a single film screened. But this year we have Wadja and Comrade Kim Goes Flying, the first North Korean film to ever screen at SFF, which is exciting. With a film like La Pirogue it isn’t only that it brings attention to the Senegalese Film Industry, because they have a fantastic history of cinema, one of the strongest in Africa, but it also brings awareness to what is going on in Senegal at the time and brings about a sense of place.
AB: SFF is teaming up once again with the Festival Hub, a terrific location for festivalgoers to mingle and share opinions. This year, with the 60th Anniversary of the festival, the Rear Window Loop created by Jeff Desom, will be screening in the Hub. Are we looking at a Hitchcock retrospective, or aren’t you allowed to reveal that just yet?
NM: I can’t reveal that, but I think the retrospective is a very interesting one this year. It is edgy and fun, and I think a lot of people are going to enjoy it.
AB: Canadian actress-turned writer/director Sarah Polley is a popular young filmmaker at the moment. Her documentary about her family, Stories We Tell, was very well received by her home crowd at Toronto. Was that where you first experienced the film?
NM: I actually saw Stories We Tell here in Sydney after it was acquired. It was a phenomenal film. It is very surprising. Without discussing any details, you go in expecting one thing and it becomes something completely different.
AB: We have a regular feature on Graffiti With Punctuation called Five Star Films where we reflect on the films we love and would give the highest grade. What constitutes a five star film for you?
NM: I have my own rating system to keep track of what I am seeing and it is also out of five. Very few films, for me, get five stars. It has to be perfect in every aspect, and I don’t just mean technically – the mechanics of the screenplay, characters etc. – but it needs to have that magical fifth star. It’s personal and emotional. Something that leaves me with a higher emotional bond to the film.
AB: I know exactly what you mean. What is your number one five star film and what is it about that film that you love so much?
NM: This answer changes all the time, and I often give different answers, but if I had to select one it would be Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. I don’t get the chance to see many films many times. I think I have seen Rashomon the most of any film and I always discover something new every time.
AB: Of all the films announced today, what is the one you are most excited for audiences to see?
NM: Everyone has very different tastes, so it is difficult to select just one, but I think a lot of films are going to surprise people. Wadja is not just an incredible film, but it is also a very important film and two of the documentaries, Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing, are very powerful. I’ll be interested to see how audiences respond to them.
AB: Nashen, thank you very much for your time. We wish you all the best with the preparations for the festival. I can’t wait for the final reveal of the line-up.
NM: Thanks very much for your time. See you at the festival.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22