Fantales Who Am I?
I have a well-worn passport.
I’m young and from South Africa (but I’m not Zef).
I’ve been involved in my field for the last 11 years.
I’m a huge fan of The Wire and Parks and Recreation.
I direct one of the biggest most prestigious film festivals in Australia.
Nabbing the role as director of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF), moving to Sydney, gallivanting around the world, chatting to film-folk and getting paid for it; Nashen Moodley has a pretty sweet deal. As you’d imagine, he spends a lot of his time jetting from global capital to global capital, watching some of the best films the world has to offer. Needless to say, Mr. Moodley has no need for Tightarse Tuesdays. But if something sounds too good to be true it probably is, and the role of SFF director is not (just) a circus of heady festivals and in-flight wines.
In his new position, Moodley has made it his business to continue the geographically diverse, but Australia-conscious tradition of the 58-year-old SFF. He’s also proud as punch of this year’s innovations. This includes the Blackfella Films program, boasting the film Mabo, which will premiere on ABC1 this Sunday June 10. So set whatever hi-tech TV-recording means necessary. Oh, and grab a fresh box of those aloe vera tissues when you’re at Woolies; you’ll be using lots of them.
Nashen carved out some time to have a chin-wag about exactly what it is that he does, snagging the Australian premiere of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom
, and the motivation behind the Blackfella Films collaboration.
: How did you land the gig of festival director?
: Well I’ve been working in film festivals for 11 years before coming to the SFF. And when the SFF required a new director they employed a recruitment agency, which conducted an international search, and I was one of the people invited to apply. I applied and after quite a long process I got it.
: Do you need to choose films that will sell, or is it freer than that?
I’m very free to choose the films that I like. For me the important thing about festivals is that there is a very diverse selection. There should be many entry points into the festival for film lovers of all stripes. It’s not so much ‘what will sell’ but the idea of a broad program, and a broad program includes films that are also in some senses popular, in that they have stars, or are made by known directors. I don’t believe that there is a type of film-festival-film; I think film festivals should be made up of all kinds of cinema.
: You go to all the major film festivals, but do you try to get to smaller festivals?
: I try to do a range of things and include some smaller festivals as well. I don’t just attend festivals; I also visit cities to view films outside of the festival context, which is very nice. So each year I’ll spend a week in Tokyo and watch films in private screenings, and have meetings with various filmmakers, studios and distributers. I do something similar in Paris.
: So do you actually just travel around and watch films?
: I wish it were just that! That would be really nice, but it’s a lot more than that. With each film there’s a range of negotiations that have to take place. And that’s often pretty complex. I do quite a lot of writing as well for the program guide, I’m involved in the logistics of the festival, and I’m involved in the decision making with my colleagues on lots of the key issues around the festival. So for the most part my job is the selection, but I’m also involved in the long-term strategy of the festival.
: You mentioned the negotiations; is it quite hard to secure a premiere, as you did with Wes Andersons Australian premiere of Moonrise Kingdom
: Of course there are a range of different issues, and film festivals are in some ways quite dependent on film release schedules. At the SFF we have a number of films that had their world premiere at Cannes, and that’s really difficult to do, because we announce our line-up before Cannes even begins. So that requires quite a lot of negotiating, an element of luck as well, of course. You’ve got to have good relationships with the people involved to make that happen. It’s a combination of people; filmmakers, distributers, producers and so on. And sometimes for a particular film you need all of those people involved, and other cases it’s just one. So I’m really very very happy with what we’ve achieved on that front.
: You decided to run the Focus on India program. Do you have a specific and personal interest in Indian film?
: Not more than any other type of film. I have programmed a lot of Indian cinema over time so I’m quite familiar with it, and I’ve worked quite a bit with Indian filmmakers. So I’m very interested in Indian cinema, and I think there’s some great cinema coming out of India. There hadn’t been many Indian films played at the SFF in recent years, so it seemed like a good time to highlight that.
: Was it your decision to bring the Blackfella Films program into the SFF?
: Rachel and Darren, who run the Message Sticks Indigenous Film Festival, approached us to see how we could collaborate. We thought it would be brilliant to have that program within the SFF, as it would open that program up to a broader audience, and for us it would be fantastic to focus on indigenous filmmaking in Australia and around the world. So it was really very obvious that this was a collaboration that would be extremely useful to both parties, and I’m really happy that we’ve been able to make it work.
Also, I think Mabo
is really great. I’d only read up on it [the court case] afterward, but the film is really incredible because it takes us through the legal process, but it doesn’t get bogged down in the complexity of the issues. Rather, it looks at the personalities involved and it just tells a really beautiful love story; I think it’s going to go down so well.
: Lauren Bertacchini