• Festivals

70th Sydney Film Festival Opening Night

Cate Blanchett might be the biggest star of the Aussie drama, The New Boy, but the film’s opening night premiere for the 70th annual Sydney Film Festival (June 7-18) prompted the biggest response for its smallest stars.

Blanchett, who is also a co-producer, was absent as Indigenous writer/director Warwick Thornton took to the stage at the State Theatre and gave a special nod to the eight young boys in their first film – including the young lead, Aswan Reid. They play orphans under the care of a nun (Blanchett) in the moving story of spirituality and survival set in the Australian outback in the 1940s.


Thornton told the crowd while looking at his young cast sitting in the audience, “During the film, I said, ‘don’t look at the camera’, ‘never look at the camera’ and, ‘OK we have to do another take because someone looked at the bloody camera!’ And then tonight, you’re on the red carpet and I’m going, ‘look at the bloody camera!’ Now you’re about to see yourselves 150 feet wide, so please do not giggle inappropriately!”

After the film, Thornton surprised audiences by bringing out all eight boys on stage, prompting the sold-out crowd to jump to their feet and give a standing ovation.

The director was overwhelmed with tears, and his voice cracked as he responded, “In all my career, I’ve never felt a room like you and the energy you give back to these children…”


Other attendees included Bryan Brown and wife Rachel Ward (whose documentary, Rachel’s Farm, is in competition), Aussie actors Damon (The Tourist) Herriman and jury member Mia (Alice in Wonderland) Wasikowska. Other jury members include Jury President and director, Anurag Kashyap (India), film curator and journalist, Dorothee Wenner (Germany), writer and director Larissa Behrendt (Australia) and filmmaker Visakesa Chandrasekaram (Australia/Sri Lanka).

Jane Campion’s career is being celebrated with a retrospective and Q&A and other guests include Anurag Kashyap, Bruce Pascoe, Craig Foster, Hakeem al-Araibi, Mark Coles-Smith and Kim Jee-woon. Campion’s own daughter, actress/director Alice Englert, will premiere her directorial debut film, Bad Behavior, and other filmmakers attending with films in competition include Indian filmmaker Devashish Makhija (Joram), legendary Korean director Kim Jee-woon (Cobweb), Moroccan director Asmae El Moudir (The Mother of all Lies), and the Australian filmmaking team from The Dark Emu Story including author Bruce Pascoe.

The 2023 Festival will also offer the largest prize pool in its history, totaling over $160,000 and including $60,000 for the Official Competition and Sydney Film Prize, celebrating “a film that demonstrates audacious, cutting-edge and courageous cinema.” Other prizes include $20,000 for Documentary Australia award winner, $40,000 for Sustainable Future Award, and $10,000 for the Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award.

The twelve films competing in the Official Competition are: Afire, Art College 1994, Bad Behavior, Cobweb, The Dark Emu Story, Fallen Leaves, Joram, Monster, The Mother of All Lies, The New Boy, Past Lives and Scrapper.

“These films push boundaries, challenge norms, and ignite conversations, offering unique perspectives and captivating storytelling,” said Festival Director Nashen Moodley. “The Official Competition is rich with the world’s most ground-breaking and remarkable films and filmmakers, so our jury faces a challenging decision!”