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SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL 1998 - PREVIEW

A BUMPER CROP
From docos to classics, to new Australian cinema to the cinema of Armenia and Iran, the 45th Sydney Film Festival is here, and for his last Festival, director Paul Byrnes has a bumper crop to offer Sydney's cinephiles. PAUL FISCHER offers a sneak preview of Sydney's premiere movie event.

In early June, the grand State Theatre’s lobby is filled with eager movie buffs, ready yet again, to endure hundreds of hours of diverse celluloid. The four corners of the globe meet on the silver screen for this annual cine-fest, and this year's Sydney Film Festival, the 45th, seems bigger and more exciting than ever before.

In keeping with tradition to open the festival with an Australian film, the long awaited screen adaptation of Tim Winton's dark novella In the Winter Dark featuring Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto, the formidable Ray Barrett and British Oscar-nominee Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies) will be screened. The low budget film, a first feature by James Bogle, will have its world premiere at the Festival, and will be released commercially in Australia in early September. Indigenous director Rachel Perkins' Radiance is set to close. According to festival director Paul Byrnes, now putting the finishing touches to his last festival, there "would have been more Australian features had I had my way, but Australian distributors are a bit chicken-hearted some times.

"It's a celebration of the best and most exciting films that world cinema has to offer."

But of course the Sydney Film Festival is far more than the glitz of an opening night film and party; it's a celebration of the best and most exciting films that world cinema has to offer. This festival will screen close to 200 features and shorts, including a wonderful series of unique special events. Fans of the legendary Frank Capra will enthusiastically embrace the recent documentary on his life and work; Frank Capra's American Dream will be followed by a retrospective of some of the films he made with Barbara Stanwyck, including Meet John Doe and The Miracle Woman. There's an interesting program of Welsh cinema, old and new, a tribute to new Vietnamese cinema, and a close examination of African cinema. The State's special Wednesday night programs continue this year with evenings of French and German cinema, respectively. Director Phil Noyce will vivisect his classic Aussie film Newsfront in the series called In the Frame: "Phil's coming out especially for this" comments Byrnes. "Since he's a patron of the Festival, it'll be great to have him here."

"There are events to behold and films to savour"

Yes, there are events to behold and films to savour. Highlights include Michael Winterbottom's heart-wrenching but stunning Welcome to Sarajevo, which made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and then subsequently screened at the Toronto Film Festival. And from last year’s Cannes Fest, a number of prize winners are here - a rare coup indeed: The Eel, from Japan, The Taste of Cherry from Iran, Atom Egoyan's extraordinary The Sweet Hereafter (Canada) and Happy Together (Hong Kong). From Britain, the ebullient Twentyfourseven, a hit at both the recent Sundance and Toronto festivals, will be screened, featuring Bob Hoskins in a tour-de-force performance. From Ireland, there's Neil Jordan's latest gem, The Butcher Boy, which is currently receiving rave reviews in the US.

Included among the many fine US films, are Robert Duvall’s The Apostle, Wild Man Blues, an entertaining and absorbing documentary revolving around a unique Venice jazz tour (Woody Allen is one of the clarinet players), and on the other side of the spectrum, the poetic, sensual First Love, Last Rites, a delicate first feature by ex-muso Jesse Peretz - another hit at Sundance.

Too many films, too little time, but this year's 45th Sydney Film Festival offers an irresistible glimpse into a cinematic world we rarely get the chance to inhabit, and this could be the best in years. As for the future of Paul Byrnes? "I'll continue reviewing films for the Sydney Morning Herald and take a break, while looking for other things to do."

The Sydney Film Festival will be held at the State Theatre and the Pitt Centre from June 5-19.

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Opening Night Film:
In the Winter Dark


Closing Night Film:
Radiance


Woody Allen:
Jazz is back


The Apostle:
Robert Duval


Atom Egoyan’s:
Sweet Hereafter


Michael Winterbottom’s:
Welcome to Sarajevo

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