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Meet the boss: Sydney Film Festival director, Nashen Moodley

1 June 2018
The doors of the Sydney Film Festival will open from 6 - 17 June in cinemas across Sydney CBD and the greater Sydney.
In celebration of this iconic annual Sydney event, Film Studies Honours students caught up with the ultimate film guru, Sydney Film Festival director, Nashen Moodley.
Sydney Film Festival director, Nashen Moodley

Image: Sydney Film Festival director, Nashen Moodley taken by Vincenzo Amato

Nashen lives and breathes cinema - his impressive career in the industry has seen him work on film festivals across the world including South Africa, Dubai, India, Asia, South Korea, Mexico, and for the British Film Institute in London.

But how many movies has Nashen seen and what is his all-time favourite? Our students found out. Here's what he had to say.

1. How do you begin planning the festival?

We have a broad structure for the festival. Some things don't change very often, such as the Official Competition, feature film, and documentary sections. We start by thinking: what country do we focus on? Who should be the subject of the retrospective? Or, do we want to add a new program? For instance, the Art + Film program is something we've wanted to explore for some time.

Then we start watching films. No, before we start watching films, there is also the structure of the festival in a physical sense. The festival will comprise of close to four hundred sessions, beginning at the State Theatre. So we have to consider, do we need a new venue that is more accessible, or better for families? That is how we made the decision to move the Screenability and family films programs to the Entertainment Quarter. You have this massive matrix of places where you need to book films. You get a sense of how many films you need, then you start selecting films.

2. We know you travel around the world to scout films for the festival. What is the scouting process like, and how many films does a festival director watch in a year?

The scouting process is done by myself and my colleague, Jenny Neighbour, travelling to many festivals. I start in August with Venice and Toronto, and then Korea, Japan, and India. At the start of the year I go to Sundance, Rotterdam, Berlin, and then to Paris for private screenings. That is the travelling component. We're also sent hundreds and hundreds of films. Thousands, actually, through various sources: submissions, sales agents, Australian distributors, contacts we have with filmmakers and producers. We have long relationships with many of them, and we make the selection that way.

In terms of the count, I once counted eight hundred films, and I thought that was way too many and it sounded really sad [laughs]. I watch fewer films now. At the time when I watched around eight hundred films a year I was also watching lots of short films, and now I don't watch as many short films, but still I see several hundred films a year.

3. What is the process for the selection of films?

We have many curators we work with. We work with David Stratton on the retrospective, and for Freak Me Out we have Richard Kuipers, but primarily the selection is made by my colleague Jenny Neighbour, who programs the documentaries, and I program the feature films. We have an independent committee who chooses the short films for the Dendy Awards. All these things are very clearly timelined. We've got to hit certain milestones in terms of our selection, because when there is such a big selection, you can't say, right, these are the three hundred films I want, and then they magically appear. It's a lot of negotiation. Some are easy to secure: the biggest films, the best known films. The very newest films are the most difficult to secure.

4. Do you have autonomy over the film selection for the festival, or do you have certain interests you have to negotiate?

We really have complete autonomy over the selection. There are no impositions, but there is a desire to have a diverse program. We want to show films from all over the world. We want to say we have films from at least fifty countries, and this year we have sixty-five. That is something we really want to do, but that also influences our decisions. We'll say, ok, we don't need ten films from this country, we need something from somewhere else, or from this region. But we have great autonomy in the selection, and you're right to ask because that is not to be taken for granted. I think film festivals are very much effected by issues of funding and censorship.