Sydney Europe Voices of Women in Film 2023

highly personal, historically inspired and analytical in their observations: these 10 films show a diverse europe from women's points of view

In its eighth year of collaboration with Sydney Film Festival (SFF) (June 7 – 18, 2023), European Film Promotion’s (EFP) dedicated programme, EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM will be highlighting 10 selected films by outstanding European women filmmakers for the Australian audience, film industry and press.

Supported by Creative Europe - the Media Programme of the European Union - and the participating European national film promotion institutes (EFP’s member organisations) and with the final selection made by SFF festival director Nashen Moodley, this year's line-up mainly comprises feature-length debuts and two documentaries that had already celebrated their world premieres at international film festivals in Rome, London, Toronto, Rotterdam, Sundance and Berlin, to name just a few, in 2022 and 2023.

"This year's selection of films of our longstanding common initiative provides an intense and varied glimpse of the diverse realities in Europe. Partly inspired by their own biographies, the women directors show their views of the world and raise their voices to explore themes of migration, belonging, self-empowerment and friendship. We are confident that the selected films will excite and inspire the Australian audience and encourage important cross-border discussions about moving issues of our time. Our thanks go to Sydney Film Festival for sharing this platform for 10 films by the most promising of European women filmmakers", says EFP's Managing Director Sonja Heinen.

“The EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM programmes's eighth edition shines a light on exceptional women filmmakers, amplifying their voices in an industry burdened by gender disparity,” said Sydney Film Festival Director Nashen Moodley. “Featuring films from Italy to Denmark, and Ireland to Estonia, the programme serves as a platform for the diverse experiences and narratives of European women.”

EFP offers a programme including a preliminary webinar with the European Women's Audiovisual Network (EWA) on 30th May as well as networking events and a panel discussion on site for the five filmmakers who are travelling to Sydney: Anna Hints, Nafiss Nia, Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, Asimina Proedrou, and Marta Savina will be there in person to present their films to the festival audiences in June, while those women directors not travelling to Sydney will introduce their films in short introductory video clips shown before the screenings.

The selected films are: Band by Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir (Iceland), Behind the Haystacks by Asimina Proedrou (Greece, Germany, North Macedonia), Elaha by Milena Aboyan (Germany), Family Time by Tia Kouvo (Finland, Sweden), The Girl from Tomorrow by Marta Savina (Italy, France), The Quiet Migration by Malene Choi (Denmark), Smoke Sauna Sisterhood by Anna Hints (Estonia, France, Iceland), Sunlight by Claire Dix (Ireland), That Afternoon by Nafiss Nia (The Netherlands) and Thunder by Carmen Jaquier (Switzerland).

The playwright, stage director and former Icelandic European Shooting Star Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir introduces us in her docu fiction debut Band to an all-female art rock band dealing with motherhood, aging, and a self-imposed deadline to achieve success. An accident on the northern Greek border shatters a three-member fishing family who is bringing migrants across the border’s river out of a need for money.
The Greek director Asimina Proedrou tells her film Behind the Haystacks from the perspective of the father, the mother and the daughter. Each chapter explores personal behaviour in the face of failings.
Elaha is a young Kurdish-German woman torn between the unconditional love for her family and her own aspirations in life. Since she is no longer a virgin, she tries to restore her virginity in order to conform with the rules of her community, while at the same time questioning them. Elaha is the feature debut and graduation film of the Armenian-born filmmaker Milena Aboyan.
In her debut film Family Time, the Finnish director Tia Kouvo questions family structures, ingrained habits, and expectations in a humorous and ironic way. The comedy-drama follows an annual family Christmas get-together that sees tensions rise. Kouvo observes and analyses without judging.
The Italian director Marta Savina brings a true case to the big screen with her debut film The Girl from Tomorrow: Sicily, 1965: Lia and her parents fight against the so-called reparation marriage after a rape. This story eventually led to a change in the Italian law that had upheld this tradition until 1981.
In her film The Quiet Migration, filmmaker Malene Choi, who was born in South Korea and grew up in Denmark, describes a feeling she knows only too well: belonging neither to Denmark nor to South Korea. Just like her protagonist Carl, who, as an adopted child from South Korea, encounters the pull of two worlds. A smoke sauna as a healing place.
In her documentary Smoke Sauna Sisterhood, the Estonian director Anna Hints captures an impressive ritual with her camera. In a lush green forest in southern Estonia, a group of women gather in the safe darkness of a smoke sauna to share deeply intimate testimonies of bodily experiences.
Setting her debut film Sunlight in the city of Dublin, the Irish filmmaker Claire Dix tragicomically describes the complex and fragile friendship between Leon, a former drug addict, and Iver, a mortally ill man who wants to die.
Inspired by her own story, the Iranian-Dutch filmmaker Nafiss Nia explores different emotional states of refugees in That Afternoon. A door that cannot be opened separates Roya, an asylum seeker representing hope, and Nassim, a former refugee embodying our bygone dreams. A film about more than two refugees’ struggle to survive, rather a reflection of the universal desire for a home and the need to come together.
In Carmen Jaquier's historical movie Thunder 17-year-old Elisabeth is forced to leave a convent and return to the family homestead because her eldest sister has suddenly died. The discovery of her sister's diaries frees her inner world from the oppressive concepts of good and evil residing in her strict parental home in 19th century Switzerland and encourages her to pursue her longing for affection.

***click here for more information on EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM***

EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM, in collaboration with Sydney Film Festival, is made possible thanks to the support of Creative Europe – the MEDIA Programme of the European Union, Eurimages, and the participating national film promotion institutes (EFP’s member organisations): Cinecittà (Italy), Danish Film Institute, Estonian Film Institute, Finnish Film Foundation, German Films, Greek Film Centre, Icelandic Film Centre, SEE NL (The Netherlands), Screen Ireland / Fís Éireann, and SWISS FILMS. EUROPE! VOICES OF WOMEN IN FILM will continue its successful cooperation with the European Women's Audiovisual Network (EWA) and Festival Scope. The main media partner is Screen International, with Fade to Her and Fred Film Radio as additional media partners.

about sydney film festival

Sydney Film Festival will celebrate its 70th birthday from Wednesday 7 June to Sunday 18 June 2023, offering Sydneysiders another exciting season of cinema amidst a whirlwind of premieres, red-carpet openings, in-depth discussions, film guests and more. Sydney Film Festival is a major event on the New South Wales cultural calendar and is one of the world's longest-running film festivals. The 70th Sydney Film Festival is supported by the NSW Government through Screen NSW, the Federal Government through Screen Australia and the City of Sydney.

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The following films/directors are presented in 2023:

The three women of the Post Performance Blues Band (PPBB) have never made it big. Their shows are avant-garde and unclassifiable, playing to dive bars with half-empty crowds. Their lyrics are about everything from waffles and coffee to their mothers. And they’re about to turn 40. Band, directed by PPBB member Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir, thrums with madcap creative passion, as the band gives themselves one last year to make it or break it. Evoking Spinal Tap’s rollicking absurdity, the film borders on mockumentary, grounded by profound reflections on parenthood, failure and dauntless friendship. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir

Amongst the reeds of Doiran Lake, a group of children make a tragic discovery with wide-reaching consequences. Debt-ridden fisherman Stergios has been using the lake, which divides North Macedonia and Greece, to smuggle refugees for profit – a decision that draws him and his family into an intense moral quagmire. Told through an elliptical, Rashomonesque narrative, director Asimina Proedrou gradually reveals the consequences of self-motivated desires and prejudices. Intense and visually lyrical, Behind the Haystacks is an exploration of religious hypocrisy, xenophobia and constrictive borders. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Behind the Haystacks
Asimina Proedrou
Greece, Germany, Republic of North Macedonia

Elaha (Bayan Layla), a 22-year-old student, is on the cusp of becoming a bride. As her community buzzes with excitement, Elaha struggles with the hidden knowledge that she’s no longer a virgin. Knowing this would cause shame to her family and fiancé, she desperately searches for options to ‘restore’ her virginity. There’s the costly surgery of hymen reconstruction, or blood capsule kits that assist with deception. But will any of it work? Director Milena Aboyan ratchets up the tension, while depicting her young protagonist’s struggle for sexual self-determination with heart-rending grace. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Milena Aboyan

Beneath the sheen of holiday cheer, family gatherings can be stews of private resentments, regret and unspoken histories. Finnish director Tia Kouvo turns her camera’s unsparing gaze on an extended family, who converge at a rustic cottage at the edge of a gorgeous, snow-capped wood for the Christmas season. Droning everyday chatter and mundane family rituals give way to a hothouse of deeper tensions, in this surgical exploration of suffocating private spaces. Sidestepping the usual salacious reveals, Family Time instead mines deadpan comedy and melancholy from things that cannot be easily said. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Family Time
Tia Kouvo
Finland, Sweden

Based on true events in Sicily, 1965. Spirited daydreamer Lia finds her life derailed when her flirtation with a handsome local, Lorenzo, takes a horrific turn. Lia and her family take her case to the courts, battling intimidation from Lorenzo’s powerful family, along with the immense social and legal pressures demanding Lia to marry her assailant. Marta Savina’s assured debut has a contemporary feel as she tackles this revolutionary true story with immense skill and sensitivity. The Girl from Tomorrow is an urgent tale of self-determination and family love. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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The Girl from Tomorrow
Marta Savina
Italy, France

An unspoken yearning for homeland simmers in this lush social drama. Carl, a South Korean adoptee, lives a dutiful existence in the picturesque Danish countryside, tending to the family farm he’ll inherit one day. A quiet wound festers at his centre: Carl lives in a land where nobody looks like him, where family members openly decry migration. Director Malene Choi, also a South Korean adoptee, heightens Carl’s emotional world through surreal flourishes, as he glimpses phantom impressions of his birth mother, and an ominous crack threatens to split the seemingly idyllic farmhouse in two. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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The Quiet Migration
Malene Choi

The practice of gathering in woodland smoke saunas is age-old tradition in Southern Estonia. In Anna Hints’s engrossing documentary, the setting takes on a transcendent character, acting as a spiritual refuge for feminine intimacy. Women can comfortably exist in their nakedness, sharing their innermost thoughts on everything from family to self-esteem, traumatic births, and sexual assault. The intensity of their communion is balanced within the restorative atmosphere, where steam hisses over rocks and Edvard Egilsson’s score heightens this choral portrait of contemporary womanhood. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Smoke Sauna Sisterhood
Anna Hints
Estonia, France, Iceland

How can you part with the person who makes life worth living? Former addict Leon sunnily bounces through life, brushing off the dealers who once had him in their thrall. He owes it all to his best friend, Viking enthusiast Iver. But Leon is destabilised when he discovers Iver has received a terminal diagnosis and is planning to pursue euthanasia. Determined to prolong his mentor’s last days, Leon ropes Iver into one last romp across Dublin. Bolstered by the crackling chemistry between Barry Ward and Liam Carney, Sunlight is a poignant and hilarious ode to the power of friendship and change. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Claire Dix

Iranian refugee Roya is at an asylum seekers’ facility, but her status has been rejected and she is to be sent back to Iran. She flees to her last hope – a nearby photographer known for offering a safe haven. But when Roya arrives, all is not so straight forward. She is denied entry by a man claiming to be the photographer’s brother. Separated by a door, the two strike up a conversation, revealing their perspectives on trauma, displacement and the future. Though at first mistrustful of each other, they may be each other’s last hope. Moving and complex, That Afternoon is a tale about boundaries and finding human connection in our darkest hour. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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That Afternoon
Nafiss Nia
The Netherlands

In the summer of 1900, pious 17-year-old Elisabeth learns of the death of her sister, Innocente. Ripped away from the nunnery where she planned to spend her life, she returns home to the Valais valley, where her sister’s name has become taboo. Then, an encounter with three village boys and Innocente’s hidden diary awakens something fresh and wild in the touch-starved Elisabeth. Reminiscent of Jane Campion’s The Piano, Carmen Jaquier’s debut draws on the staggering beauty of the mountains and rivers, in an elemental portrayal of youth caught between restriction and discovery, desire and God. (Sydney Film Festival 2023)

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Carmen Jaquier