Sydney celebrated a platinum jubilee this June as the Australian city’s internationally famous film festival turned 70 years old.

The 2023 Sydney Film Festival (SFF) took place from June 7 to June 18. After the closing ceremonies, nine competitors returned home with cash prizes and trophies in the form of swirl-decorated discs, Sydney’s modernist alternative to the Lions (Venice) and Tigers (Rotterdam) and Bears (Berlin) of other festivals.

Here’s everything you need to know about SFF 2023.


Two very different stars of cinema were honored with retrospectives on their work: acclaimed yet iconoclastic director Jane Campion and legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan.

Campion became the first woman to win the Cannes Palme d’Or for best feature film when The Piano was recognized in 1993. The Piano also earned Campion her first Academy Award®, for Best Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen). Campion won another Academy Award®, for directing The Power of the Dog, in 2022.

The Campion retrospective was titled “Jane Campion – Her Way.” She made remarks after a screening of Jane Campion, The Cinema Woman (2022), a biographical film directed by Julie Bertuccelli. In addition, Campion participated in an onstage dialogue with film critic David Stratton, a former SFF director.

Bachchan’s film credits are extensive – he has narrated or acted in over 200 productions – which makes curating a retrospective a daunting task. Fortunately, the Film Heritage Foundation undertook the project, screening 11 films in 17 Indian cities from October 8–11, 2022. Of those films, the SFF selected four classics to show again: Deewaar (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Don (1978), and Kaala Patthar (1979).

The Bachchan retrospective was called Amitabh Bachchan: Back to the Beginning. Bachchan did not attend the festival. If he had, he might have upstaged the festival’s platinum jubilee, as Bachchan turned 80 in October 2022.

Award Winners

The SFF juries awarded nine cash prizes, totaling AU$163,000 (about $110,500).

The Sydney Film Prize (AU$60,000) went to Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir for The Mother of All Lies, a deeply personal story about Morocco’s 1981 Bread Riots. A jury that included Mia Wasikowski praised the film’s courage and its “playful, yet calculated visual narration.”

The Sustainable Future Award (AU$40,000), the world’s largest festival prize for a film about climate change, went to Indian director Sarvnik Kaur for Against the Tide. The film shows how environmental harms threaten the livelihoods of two Mumbai fishermen. Describing the film as “beautiful” and “audacious,” the jury praised it for “showing the difficulties of traditional fishing practices in these communities as they are overrun by more modern, unsustainable, and illegal fishing practices.”

The Documentary Australia Award (AU$20,000) went to Australian filmmakers Derik Lynch and Matthew Thorne for Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black). In the documentary, Lynch returns from Adelaide to his childhood home among the Yankunytjatjara people. Praising the film, the jury found it “incredibly evocative, precise, and raw.”

As announced in advance, the Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award (AU$10,000) went to Chris Godfrey. Since co-founding the digital and visual effects studio Animal Logic, Godfrey has worked on blockbuster films including Moulin Rouge! (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013). He gave the SFF’s Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture on Monday, June 12.

Prominent among the short film award winners was The Dancing Girl and the Balloon Man, which took home not one but two awards. This short film is a Surrealist romance between a woman who sells dim sum and a man who entertains passersby on the city streets.

Its director, David Ma, won the Dendy Live Action Short Award (AU$7,000). The jury wrote, “This is a charming film punctuated by raucous interjections into the profane, and forays into unexpected territory.”

One of the two leads, Robyn Liu, won the first ever Event Cinemas Rising Talent Award (AU$7,000). “Each of her glances,” the jury rhapsodized, “is charged with nuance, each delicate gesture signaling the desire for something greater.”

The Rouben Mamoulian Award for Best Director (AU$7,000) went to Sophie Somerville for Linda 4 Eva, an introspective yet energetic short about the experiences of a teenage girl. Clearly impressed, the jury remarked that the film “explodes the interiority of a teenage girl in kaleidoscope, surreal fashion.”

The AFTRS (Australian Film Television and Radio School) Craft Award for Best Practitioner (AU$7,000) went to writers Kalu Oji, Faro Musodza, and Makwaya Masudi for What’s in a Name? The short film explores the joys and troubles of a romantic relationship. The jury remarked, “In the space of a few frames, it [the film] shifts from the poetic to the pulverizing: a perfectly executed magic trick of screenwriting.”

The Yoram Gross Animation Award (AU$5,000) went to directors Alec Green and Finbar Watson for Teacups. The short is a tribute to Don Ritchie, a World War Two veteran of Australia’s navy who prevented 160 desperate souls from drowning themselves in the Pacific Ocean. The jury wrote, “The artistry is striking, intricate and expertly rendered, spinning a heartfelt – though never cloying – tale of a local hero.”

As you can tell, a variety of excellent films were celebrated at the SFF’s platinum jubilee. Festivities continue with the Traveling Film Festival, which will bring favorite films from the SFF to other cities in New South Wales from now through October 2023.

In early 2024, expect to hear about these films again. The winners of the Documentary Australia Award, Dendy Live Action Short Award, and Yoram Gross Animation Award automatically become eligible to compete in the Academy Awards®. Of course, other films may follow the usual route to eligibility.

Congratulations to the winners! And, many thanks to the SFF organizers for their long-standing support of creative communities!