5 Must-See Australian Films at the 2023 Sydney Film Festival

the dark emu story sydney film festival

The 70th Sydney Film Festival is well and truly underway, taking over cinemas all across the city. It is the city’s first chance to catch over 200 of the world’s most exciting movies, from international blockbusters to local indies telling the untold stories of our backyard. It showcases work from filmmakers all across the globe, with household names like Wes Anderson and Jane Campion to up-and-coming auteurs who are household names in the making. Perhaps most importantly, though, the Sydney Film Festival is one of the country’s best opportunities to see the Australian films you otherwise might miss.

The 70th Sydney Film Festival is screening movies from 67 countries, but with so many Australian premieres (123 to be exact), you’d be hard-pressed to look past some of the great films being made right here. The opening night of the festival celebrated the Australian premiere of Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy, starring literal goddess Cate Blanchett.

With the festival coming to a close on June 18, there isn’t that much time left, but there are still a bounty of great Aussie films you can catch. Here are a few of our faves.


Director: Amin Palangi

Tennessine tells the story of Arash and Nazanin, who reunite when the former defies his family and flies from Iran to Australia to be with the latter. Arash (Osamah Sahi) is supposed to be in Australia for his education, but he’s primarily there for Nazanin (Faezeh Alavi). To celebrate their reunion, they head remote for a romantic cabin getaway.

However, Arash’s paranoia is triggered as he discovers Nazanin has been harbouring some deep secrets. Romantic heartwarmer turned psychological thriller? If you’re ready for that rollercoaster, this one’s for you.


Directors: Ricard Cussó, Tania Vincent

When thinking of Australian movies, animation might not be a genre that springs to mind. Enter Scarygirl. With a cast this packed and a story this unique, it might have what it takes to become an Aussie classic. 12-year-old Arkie has a tentacle for an arm, and an octopus for a Dad.

Then, criminals from outer space invade, Arkie’s OctoDad is kidnapped, and the entire planet’s lifeforce is at stake, just so the evil Dr. Maybee can find the key to his own immortality.

We know you’re sold. But if that wasn’t enough, Australian icons Deborah Mailman, Sam Neill and Tim Minchin all lend their voices to this unique and vivid tale.


jordan bryer in transition at sydney film festival
AGC Studios

Director: Jordan Bryer

Australia also has a bevvy of documentaries screening at SFF 2023 this year, and at the top of this list is Transition, directed by its subject, Jordan Bryer.

Gender transition is challenging and strenuous in the best of circumstances, so imagine doing it while embedded in the Taliban. Bryer has been living and working as a journalist in Afghanistan for the past six years, and chose to stay there following the departure of US forces (and the Taliban’s takeover shortly thereafter).

Transition is sure to be one of the more harrowing yet awe-inspiring watches of the entire event.

The Dark Emu Story

Director: Allan Clarke

Bruce Pascoe’s 2014 novel Dark Emu claimed that Indigenous Australians used complex economic and agricultural systems long before invasion by Europeans. This caused a nation to rethink its own history, while Pascoe’s entire identity was brought into question in the process.

The story played out in headlines (and politics) for years, and now, The Dark Emu Story re-examines the controversy and the discourse. The documentary gives First Nations Australians a platform to tell their own stories, and offer their take on how crucial it is to re-evaluate perspectives on what is deemed ‘traditional’ Indigenous history.


Directors: Jack Clark, Jim Weir

Joining an established canon of psychological thrillers centred on modern-day misogyny, Birdeater follows the story of Irene, a bride-to-be, joining her fiancé Louis’ bucks party in remote Australia. In what might not come as a surprise, Louis’ mates are almost all trash and things take a dark turn.

Beyond the overt and gross misogyny of Louis’ friends, the relationship between Louis and Irene is also explored. The film skewers the misogyny and sexism that’s so often masqueraded as larrikinism, and is going to be one of the biggest talking points of the entire program.

Where to Buy Sydney Film Festival Tickets

You can check out the remaining films screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, including additional dates for 13 in-demand films like Anatomy of a Fall and May December, here.

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