HE HAS ONLY visited our shores once – for a brief, two-day trip earlier this year – and admits his knowledge of Australian cinema is far from complete. Yet Nashen Moodley – the new face of the Sydney Film Festival – intends to shake things up when he touches down, early in the new year.
Moodley, 33, plans to juggle two major festivals – on opposite sides of the globe – when he starts his new job, on January 9. He’s also got a passion project in his sights: to market African cinema Down Under.
“I think African cinema deserves its place at the world’s festivals,” he said, at last week’s Dubai International Film Festival, his ‘other job’ since 2005. “They’re not seen widely enough, and they deserve to be. I think they can stand up next to films from other countries.”
The Indian-African, who was barely a teenager when apartheid came to an end in his native South Africa, was speaking for the first time since his appointment last month, following a worldwide search to replace outgoing festival director Clare Stewart, now based in London. It is the first time the festival has actively recruited for the role from overseas.
Although considered young for Australia’s top film job, Moodley is highly regarded for his international expertise, having boosted the profile of South Africa’s largest film festival in his native Durban over the last 10 years.
In an unprecedented move, he has cut a unique deal with festival chiefs, which will allow him to divide his time between Sydney and the Middle East.
“In terms of the timing, it’s absolutely fine,” he said. “Sydney happens in June, Dubai in December. Both are pretty cosmopolitan cities. It works.”
A senior colleague, Sheila Whitaker, believes it’s very good news for Australia. “With Nashen in Sydney, we’ll be able to get a far greater feel for what’s happening in Australia,” the Dubai programmer said. “That’s good news for Australian filmmakers – and for audiences in the Gulf.”
Aussie filmmakers have been trying to tap into this lucrative area of the Middle East – now the fastest-emerging market in the world – for some time. Tellingly, despite acclaimed director Peter Weir flying to Dubai to judge this year’s festival, few Australian films have screened there. That will now change.
Dubai – the last of the major film festivals for the year – has been enjoying a renewed focus, thanks to films marking this year’s Arab Spring and the presence of Tom Cruise, who launched this year’s event from the Burj Khalifa tower – the world’s tallest building – which he famously hangs from in the Dubai-based MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL.
Owen Wilson, Helena Christensen, Shailene Woodley and German auteur Werner Herzog were among the other big names attending the eight-day extravaganza, which wrapped early Thursday morning, Sydney time, following a gala awards presentation saluting local filmmakers.
In addition, films such as THE PRICE OF KINGS: YASSER ARAFAT and CINEMA JENIN – two landmark documentaries about Palestine, both due in Australia in the new year – won unanimous praise from audiences and critics alike.
First published in The Sun-Herald.
[Postscript: Nashen Moodley has subsequently stated, in another interview, that he will be spending two weeks a year working on the Dubai International Film Festival.]