Documentaries

Lovers of documentaries need look no further than Sydney Film Festival to get their fill. This year there are 65 feature documentaries from 31 countries in 39 languages including nine local Indigenous dialects.

This year there are 65 feature documentaries from 31 countries in 39 languages including nine local Indigenous dialects. Among this field of factual wonders are 15 Australian productions, 13 World Premieres and an additional 39 are Australian premieres. We are especially proud that eight of the Documentary Australia Foundation Award for Australian Documentary contenders are director and/or produced by women.

78/52

A documentary tribute to a movie sequence: the infamous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho gets the full-on geek cinephile treatment.

76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami

A touching portrait of the legendary Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who died in July 2016, crafted by his friend and collaborator, photographer Seifollah Samadian.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Award-winning US documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, SFF 1994; Life Itself, SFF 2014) is in top form in this captivating story of the only bank indicted following America's 2008 financial meltdown.

Ama-San

A lyrical introduction to the traditional world of Japan’s free-diving fisherwomen. A multiple award-winning documentary from Portuguese director Cláudia Varejão.

Angry Inuk

The anti-sealing movement’s adverse impact on Inuit communities is exposed in this Hot Docs Audience Award winner from First Nations director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

Austerlitz

A fixed camera films visitors to the sites of Nazi death camps, watching as they observe, and thereby questioning the nature of history and remembrance.

Short Film

BackBurning - Midnight Oil

Aaron Pederson narrates the story of the ‘most dangerous band in Australia' as they plan their first world tour in 20 years.

Barbecue

An epic, mouth-watering celebration of the tradition of barbecuing across the world: from South African braais and Texan pitmasters to a New Zealand hangi.

Beuys: Art as a Weapon

The life and work of iconoclast Joseph Beuys, a revolutionary German artist of the 1970s and ‘80s, celebrated for his artworks, performances and politics.

Blue

The world premiere of an invigorating Australian documentary: a beautifully crafted wake up call to the state of the earth’s oceans, dedicated to creating awareness and change.

Big Time

Much sought-after Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People) embarks on his most ambitious project yet, NYC’s new World Trade Center, in this energetic documentary.

Chavela

The uncompromising life story of openly lesbian Latin American singer Chavela Vargas - an inspiration for director Pedro Almodóvar and others - is revealed for the first time.

Chasing Coral

The Great Barrier Reef takes centre stage in this Sundance winner that raises awareness of the dire fate of coral reefs by filming the phenomenon “coral bleaching”.

Chauka Please Tell Us The Time

Manus Island is the setting for this unique collaboration between an Iranian-Kurdish journalist detainee and an Iranian-Dutch filmmaker, made with footage from a mobile phone.

Chicken People

An entertaining tale of passionate competitors and their race for poultry glory: there’s fowl language in this feathered version of Best in Show – but it’s the clucking kind!

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

The Jane in question is author and activist Jane Jacobs and her fight was to preserve New York’s historic neighbourhoods in the 1960s – a battle no less pertinent today.

Short Film

Connection

Cuba got Wi-Fi routers installed in 18 public parks in 2016. For many Cubans, this meant going online for the first time.

Connection to Country

The Indigenous people of the Pilbara battle to preserve Australia’s 40,000-year-old cultural heritage from the ravages of a booming mining industry.

Defiant Lives

The history of the disability rights movement, featuring a litany of impressive activists determined to create a world where everyone, regardless of impairment, is valued and can participate fully.

The Decline of Western Civilization

A legendary documentary which dives headlong into the pulsating energy and chaos of the LA punk rock scene, circa 1980, and features Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks and Germs.

Dries

A year with fashion designer Dries Van Noten, rich with details of his fabulously innovative collections, from studio to catwalk, as well as his private life.

Dream Empire

A prize-winning Kafkaesque story from western China’s real estate boom that involves a young, out-of-her-depth entrepreneur and the ‘rent-a-foreigner’ industry.

Elián

When a Cuban boy was rescued off the US coast in 1999, no one could have predicted the wide-reaching ramifications.

The Farthest

A passionate documentary on the science project of the 20th century, NASA's Voyager space program, and the far-reaching probes launched 40 years ago.

Feminism & Film: Culture & Collaboration

Powerful collaborations between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal filmmakers and communities, as a prelude to Aboriginal produced work that burst onto screens from the 1990s.

Feminism & Film: Personal & Political

Influential women filmmakers and landmark films from the collective filmmaking practices associated with the heady days of the 1970s and '80s women's movement in Sydney.

The Giant is Falling

Director Rehad Desai (Miners Shot Down, SFF 2014) looks back at South Africa's recent past, questioning why the optimism following Mandela's 1994 election win has floundered.

Short Film

Great Muy Bien

Citizens of all ages enrol at a makeshift English school in Havana, preparing for a future of normalised Cuba-USA relations.

The Grown-Ups

Adults, but seldom treated as such: that's the dilemma facing this group of friends with Down syndrome, in this warm and compassionate documentary.

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Julien Temple's classic 1980 fictional documentary presents the spectacular rise and disintegration of the Sex Pistols as an elaborate swindle orchestrated by manager Malcolm McLaren.

The Go-Betweens: Right Here

The intensely passionate, creative and fraught set of relationships that formed one of the most loved bands in Australian rock history is explored in this classy documentary.

The Filth and the Fury

The Sex Pistols tell their own story in Julien Temple's inspired reply to his own film, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, made 20 years previously.

Short Film

Hand.Line.Cod

On Fogo Island, fishers catch cod live by hand, by hook and line, they're on a sustainability mission to drive up prices.

Hope Road

In the latest film from festival favourite Tom Zubrycki, a South Sudan refugee returns to his village to build a school, but his ambitious plans are challenged when life intervenes.

Short Film

House for Sale

Three Cubans invite us into their homes to hear their ‘sales pitch' after the 50-year ban on home sales is lifted.

I Am Not Your Negro

Narrated by Samuel L Jackson, this mesmerising Oscar-nominated film channels the impassioned words of writer James Baldwin, one of the most incisive commentators on race in America.

In My Own Words

The raw, heartfelt and often funny journey of adult Aboriginal students and their teachers as they discover the transformative power of reading and writing for the first time.

An Insignificant Man

A captivating portrait of political leader Arvind Kejriwal, aka “The Bernie Sanders of India”, filmed over one extremely eventful year as he seeks to disrupt Indian politics.

It's Not Yet Dark

The passionate story, narrated by Colin Farrell, of a young Irish filmmaker tragically diagnosed with motor neurone disease (ALS) yet fiercely determined to continue his career.

Last Men in Aleppo

An unforgettable and visceral portrait of White Helmet volunteers toiling amidst the rubble of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. A Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance.

The Last Goldfish

A daughter's search for her lost family stretches from Australia to Trinidad and WWII Germany. Rich with archival images, Su Goldfish's autobiographical documentary echoes through all those touched by forced migration.

Short Film

Legal Smuggling With Christine Choy

Oscar-nominated documentarian Christine Choy embarks on a cigarette smuggling adventure.

Lust For Sight

When a filmmaker is told by his doctor that he can't see colours, he sets out to define what it means to see. The knowledge that he may lose it all fuels his lust for sight.

Liberation Day

The bizarre but true story of a controversial art metal band heading to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to perform deadpan cover versions of The Sound of Music.

Short Film

Marrimarrigun

‘Marrimarrigun’ is the story of Marrimarri, the giant spirit man who protects the ancestors of the Yawuru people.

McLaren

The incredible true story of the man behind one of the greatest brands in international motorsport, Bruce McLaren: the humble New Zealander who became a superstar of 1960s Formula One.

Mifune: The Last Samurai

A documentary portrait of Kurosawa's muse, Toshiro Mifune, who reinvented the modern movie samurai hero. Narrated by Keanu Reeves.

Mountain

An epic cinematic and musical collaboration between Sherpa filmmaker Jennifer Peedom and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, that explores humankind's fascination with high places.

A Modern Man

Young, handsome, immensely rich, a virtuoso violinist and a Hugo Boss model: meet the man who appears to have everything, in this surprisingly charming documentary.

Motherland

A vibrant Sundance award-winning Filipino documentary filmed in the busiest maternity hospital in the world, that reveals an overcrowded, hectic and yet profoundly humane environment.

Nowhere to Hide

The top prize-winner at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam: four turbulent years in the life of resilient male nurse living in Iraq's 'triangle of death'.

Napalm

Renowned French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann (Shoah), now 91, revisits a haunting North Korean encounter in his latest documentary direct from Cannes.

My Year With Helen

The story of an exceptional woman: New Zealand's first elected female Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and her campaign to become United Nations' first ever-female Secretary-General

On the Road

A seductive fictionalised music documentary featuring alt-rock indie heroes Wolf Alice on tour, directed by Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People and 9 Songs).

The Opposition

A David-and-Goliath battle over a slice of Papua New Guinea paradise, Hollie Fifer's documentary finally reaches our screens following court action in Australia.

PACmen

‘PACmen’ takes us into the inside workings of a Super-PAC to answer one of the lingering questions of America's strangest election: why did Ben Carson run for president?

The Pink House

The story of Kalgoorlie's last original gold rush brothel, servicing the miners since 1904, through the eyes of the whimsical Madam Carmel, 70, and its longest-serving lady of the night, BJ.

The Public Image is Rotten

John Lydon of Public Image Ltd, aka Johnny Rotten, is in trademark full-on mode riffing on his post-Sex Pistols career. Illustrated with infamous interviews and classic tracks.

Risk

Filmed over six years, Laura Poitras's follow-up to her Oscar winning Citizenfour, is an arresting portrait of controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Roller Dreams

Venice Beach, CA, 1984, and the birth of a new phenomenon: roller dancing! The beyond-hip talent draws massive crowds, but politics, money and gentrification conspire to end the dream.

Rocking the Foundations

A new restoration of Pat Fiske's outstanding 1985 documentary on a NSW union's past endeavours to preserve Sydney's parks, neighbourhoods and historical buildings

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World

A stomping tribute to Native American musicians, crammed with concert footage, celebrating their weighty yet unheralded contribution to music, from Hendrix to Metallica.

School Life

A spirited documentary featuring two soon-to-retire teachers at an Irish boarding school who view their charges with equal parts eccentricity and care.

Sea Sorrow

At the age of 80, Oscar-winning actor and political activist Vanessa Redgrave has directed her first film, a heartfelt response to the refugee crisis. Selected for Cannes 2017.

Step

This uplifting story of a school step dance team on the verge of graduation won director Amanda Lipitz a Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at Sundance.

Spookers

If you've ever wondered what possesses someone to work as a creepy clown or zombie bride and scare the hell out of theme park visitors, then Spookers has the answers.

Short Film

Take Me Home

The late master Abbas Kiarostami takes his camera to the south of Italy for a playful video of alleys and stairs.

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves

Best Canadian Film at the Toronto Film Festival: an extraordinary, audacious film about four Quebec students who take protest to the verge of terrorism.

To Stay Alive - A Method

France's bestselling novelist, Michel Houellebecq, and music icon Iggy Pop join forces to discuss art and survival in this unique documentary based on the author's 1991 essay.

Untitled

In 2014, award-winning director Michael Glawogger died tragically whilst filming. His long-time editor, Monika Willi, has crafted his final footage into a striking documentary.

The War Show

A multi-award-winning documentary that chronicles Syrian radio DJ Zytoon's experiences following the 2011 Arab Spring, as hope gives way to grim reality.

Waiting for Giraffes

An emotional story of collaboration and dedication set in a Palestinian West Bank zoo, which involves a cavalcade of animals, their devoted carers and enthusiastic visitors.

We Don't Need a Map

Filmmaker Warwick Thornton investigates our relationship to the Southern Cross, in this fun and thought provoking ride through Australia's cultural and political landscape.

Whitney ‘Can I Be Me'

A gripping documentary on the all-too-short life of powerhouse performer Whitney Houston from UK documentarian Nick Broomfield and music video director Rudi Dolezal.

Short Film

White Riot: London

In 1977, immigration divides Britain. What happens when a punk fanzine challenges the status quo?

Winnie

Winner of Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival, this is a fascinating portrait of South Africa's 'mother of the nation' Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The Workers Cup

As they labour to build the facilities for Qatar's FIFA World Cup, migrant workers living in 21st century slave conditions participate in a soccer tournament of their own.

You Have No Idea How Much I Love You

A three-way conversation between an anxious mother, her twenty-something daughter, and a psychotherapist: a documentary that will resonate long after the credits have rolled.