Sydney fest upping int'l scope

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Newly installed Sydney Film Festival director Clare Stewart on Wednesday unveiled an expanded and ambitious program for the festival's 54th edition, including a 28% increase in the number of sessions over last year.

The festival, which runs June 8-24, will be broader in international scope, with films from 54 countries, and demographic reach, with a new strand dedicated to kids' films. The kids sidebar will include "Pixar: 20 years of Animation" and a new ticket package for 14- to 18-year-olds.

And while there are 65 Australian films programmed — a 35% increase from 2006 — French film "La Vie En Rose" and Russian thriller "Daywatch" are screening in the coveted opening- and closing-night slots, respectively.

Other sidebars include Accessible Cinema, with films by and about people with disabilities; spotlights on new Turkish and Brazilian films; New Crowned Hope, a collection of seven films celebrating Mozart's 250th anniversary; a focus on Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold; a John Huston retrospective; and 60 films from around the globe in the World Views section.

Australian features premiering at the festival include Tony Ayres' "The Home Song Stories," edgy urban thrillers "West" and "The Jammed," comedy "Lucky Miles," and Australian documentaries "In the Company of Actors," which documents Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving as they take the Sydney Theater Company's production of "Hedda Gabler" to New York, and "Tasmanian Devil: The Fast and Furious Life of Errol Flynn."

Australian premieres from other countries include New Zealand cult thriller "Black Sheep," Cannes 2006 Camera d'Or winner "East of Bucharest" from Romania, Denmark Oscar nominee "After the Wedding" and South Korea's "Last Dining Table."

Films from North America are less well represented than in previous years, but include David Lynch's "Inland Empire," Canadian Sarah Polley's "Away From Her," Paul Schrader's "The Walker," Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" and Toronto film festival audience award winner "Bella."

The festival also is embracing digital media as telecom Telstra initiates a Mobile Movies award, while Stewart aims to "increase the party factor" with cabaret-style screenings of films on and about music and a series of live events at the Metro Theater.
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