Sydney Film Festival is back and is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. From 7-18 June, critically acclaimed actors, directors and film fanatics alike will gather to see a full program of new movies.

At the helm of this event is Nashen Moodley, the Sydney Film Festival director. Born in South Africa and with a career around the globe, Moodley will be entering his 12th year as director of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF), expanding on his extensive career in film criticism and directing film festivals. We had the opportunity to speak to Moodley and discuss his career in the film industry, how the festival has changed and the direction it’s headed.


What inspired you to become involved in the film industry?

I have loved cinema from a very early age, starting with animated films and then Bruce Lee films. As a teen, I would watch everything I could that was released in South Africa at the time and that developed into a serious interest in international cinema – beginning with Japanese cinema – which led me to film festivals.


How did you get your start in filmmaking and how did that grow into your directorial position at the Sydney Film Festival (SFF)?

I’ve never been a filmmaker, but worked as a film critic and arts writer before programming the Durban International Film Festival for 11 years. When Sydney Film Festival began the search for a new Festival Director in 2011, I was contacted and eventually landed in Sydney.


Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley with Australian actor Toni Collette and American actor Steve Carell. Image: supplied.


Looking back on your 11 years as Festival Director of the SFF, what is an accomplishment for the festival you are most proud of?

I’m really delighted that we’ve created a permanent and prominent position for First Nations cinema at SFF – with a particular focus on Australian First Nations cinema. It’s been wonderful to see the audience of the festival grow remarkably over this period. And, of course, it’s been amazing to host some of the great filmmakers of the world – both established and new – at the festival and present their works to the Australian audience for the very first time.


What is the importance of providing a platform for inclusive cinema?

It is vitally important, I feel, not only because what we typically experience through broad cinema release is such a narrow view of the world of cinema, but there is so much more out there and so much to discover. Cinema can really open windows on the world, create a new way of understanding and increase empathy.


What are you most looking forward to about the festival this year?

I’m really looking forward to presenting the films with filmmakers in attendance, particularly at the magnificent State Theatre. It is always an awesome experience for the director, particularly if the State is full, and I love sharing in that experience.


Comedian Tim Minchin with Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley. Image: supplied.


As the festival reaches its 70th birthday this year, how has it changed and grown over the years?

The festival has grown enormously since its inception and has gone through several changes. What has not changed, though, is that there has always been a sense of community around the festival; a sense of joint ownership and responsibility. This is vital for the festival to continue and thrive.


What does the future of the festival look like?

Like many film festivals and arts organisations around the world, the festival finds itself in complex times, but the festival team is determined to continue doing what we do best: bringing together a large audience to experience the best new films from across the world together.


How does the Travelling Film Festival (TFF) change the release and reception of films around the country?

The Travelling Film Festival, for several decades, has taken films to communities where these films are not easily accessible and frequently the audience appreciation of a film at a TFF centre inspires the cinema owner to book the film for a theatrical run.


Sydney Film Festival director Nashen Moodley. Image: supplied.


How has leading other film festivals and being a part of this global filmmaking community informed your perspective in your position directing the SFF?

Sydney Film Festival is such a respected festival, all over the world. So many films and filmmakers have been celebrated at the festival over such a long period of time, and it really is a privilege to represent SFF internationally. It is vital to interact with film professionals across the globe, and to have discussions with festival colleagues from a range of festivals, to discuss trends, challenges and opportunities.


Where is your favourite place in Australia to travel to?

There are still many parts of Australia that I have yet to explore, but my favourite to travel to, for now, is Tasmania. I’ve not been for the last few years, but am excited to return later this year for a post-SFF break.


To further engage with creatives in Sydney, see how the Sydney Writer’s Festival went here.

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