First Nations

Sydney Film Festival is committed to showcasing work by First Nation filmmakers from around the world. Throughout the Festival you’ll find examples of outstanding Indigenous cinema, from the red sands of Western Australia to the snowy landscapes of the Arctic Circle. This outstanding selection will surprise, provoke and push boundaries.

Three documentaries, supported by NITV and Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, will screen in the Festival: Connection to Country (dir: Tyson Mowarin), In My Own Words (dir: Erica Glynn), and our Opening Night, Official Competition contender, We Don’t Need a Map (dir: Warwick Thornton). Two short documentaries from NITV and Screen Australia’s Songlines on Screen initiative will premiere at the Festival: Finding Mawiranga (dir: Dylan River, past winner of our Documentary Australia Foundation Award) and Marrimarrigun (dir: Kimberley West).

Our Focus on Canada includes two remarkable First Nations titles, Maliglutit (directed by Zacharias Kunuk, best known for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner), and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk.

Two short films by emerging talent will screen prior to features and documentaries (Perun Bonser’s Blight and Bjorn Stewart’s Last Drinks at Frida’s), and Nakkiah Lui’s Brown Lips (funded through Screen Australia and ABC’s Indigenous Departments’ Pitch Black Shorts initiative) is competing in this year’s Dendy Awards.

Essie Coffey’s My Survival as an Aboriginal, which won the Greater Union Award for Documentary, and the Rouben Mamoulian Award at the 26th Sydney Film Festival in 1979, will screen in the Festival’s Feminism and Film retrospective this year. Made in collaboration with Martha Ansara, My Survival as an Aboriginal is considered to be the first documentary directed by an Australian Indigenous woman. Also screening in this retrospective is Two Laws, a 1981 documentary made by the Borroloola Aboriginal Community with Carolyn Strachan and Alessandro Cavadini.

Finally, in the Box Set program, Sydney Film Festival is proud to premiere the first two episodes of the ABC’s highly anticipated second season of Cleverman, directed by Wayne Blair (The Sapphires) and Leah Purcell (Black Chicks Talking, SFF 2002) and co-written by Ryan Griffen (You Turn, SFF 2014).

Don’t miss these amazing examples of First Nation storytelling. 

Supported by 

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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.

Short Film


Aided by a female Aboriginal tracker, a constable hunts a band of dangerous criminals on Australia’s western frontier in the early 1900s.

Short Film

Brown Lips

Two cousins from Sydney's outer suburbs decide that the only way to feel loved is to turn their back on family for good.

Cleverman Season 2: Episodes 1 & 2

The top-notch team and cast behind the critically acclaimed Cleverman return for the second season with their innovative blend of mythology and futuristic thrills.

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.

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.

Short Film

Finding Maawirrangga

Indigenous actor Tom E Lewis, once uprooted from his Arnhem Land home, returns after 40 years, re-connecting through the Murrungun songline.

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.

Short Film

Last Drinks at Frida's

A lonely jazz singer and a troubled Indigenous soldier find solace in an underground speakeasy where rules don't apply.


A thrilling Arctic version of John Ford's classic western The Searchers (1956), made by Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Cannes winner Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner).

Short Film


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

Opening Night Gala 2017 - We Don't Need a Map

Experience the 2017 Sydney Film Festival Opening Night Gala, presented by Lexus Australia. Walk the red carpet, rub shoulders with the stars, and attend the exclusive party.

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.