12 September 2023

With the theme ‘See in the Dark’, the Adelaide Film Festival (AFF) has today launched its full program for the 2023 Festival, to be held from October 18– 29.

More than 130 films from 43 countries will be presented at AFF 2023 with an impressive 27 World Premieres and 38 Australian Premieres across five Adelaide cinema venues.

Following the announcement that Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel, filmed in South Australia and produced by the Academy Award-winning company See-Saw Films, will open the Festival on October 18, AFF is thrilled to announce that the Closing Night presentation will be another brilliant South Australian film, MY NAME’S BEN FOLDS i play piano.

MY NAME’S BEN FOLDS i play piano is from the powerhouse South Australian team of Oscar-nominated director Scott Hicks and producers Kerry Heysen and Jett Heysen-Hicks.  The film is a symphonic concert spectacle featuring Emmy award-nominated composer and rock maestro Ben Folds with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.  In late breaking news, Ben Folds will join AFF live via video link for this World Premiere screening.  MY NAME’S BEN FOLDS i play piano is an Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund (AFFIF) film.

AFF has also announced that filmmakers Kitty Green (The Royal Hotel, The Assistant) and Goran Stolevski (Housekeeping for Beginners, Of An Age), film journalist and critic David Rooney (The Hollywood Reporter), Indonesian film curator Alexander Matius and 2023 Don Dunstan Award recipient and, until recently, the ABC’s Head of Drama and Entertainment, Sally Riley, will sit on the Adelaide Film Festival jury.  The Jury will decide the Official Feature Fiction and Feature Documentary competitions.

Competition Films 2023

Established in 2007, the Feature Fiction Competition at the AFF was the first of its kind in Australia. The Competition celebrates bold storytelling, innovative filmmaking that pushes the artform and overall fabulous films.  This year, the Feature Fiction is a selection of almost entirely first features capturing imagined worlds both rooted in the real or entirely visionary.

The six films in the Feature Fiction Competition are the arresting, provocative thriller Blaga’s Lessons, from Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev; the elegant, time-shifting puzzle Embryo Larva Butterfly, by Greek-Cypriot writer/director Kyros Papavassiliou, about a couple who wake each day to a different time period in their lives, testing their relationship to its limits; Iranian filmmaker Behrooz Karamizade’s deeply felt story of star-crossed lovers, Empty Nets; the vibrantly experimental, unapologetically frank and often hilarious queer Spanish road movie,  On The Go, from directors Julia de Castro and María Gisèle Royo; Sahela, directed by Australia’s Raghuvir Joshi, about a young Indian-Australian couple facing up to the notion of cultural shame; and the previously announced You’ll Never Find Me, a claustrophobic psychological thriller from Adelaide filmmakers Josiah Allen and Indianna Bell.

This year’s Documentary Competition will take audiences into extraordinary and sometimes profound experiences – from a young woman’s fight for her life from a prison cell in Tehran; to being embedded with the Taliban in the days following the fall of Kabul or the wild performances on the underground stages of Berlin, London and Melbourne by one of Australia’s most internationally influential bands.

The six films in the Documentary Competition are Apolonia, Apolonia from Danish director Lea Glob, who follows young French painter Apolonia Sokol over thirteen years as the artist strives to break into the international scene; Hollywoodgate, by the Egyptian journalist turned filmmaker Ibrahim Nash’at, which, in the chaotic aftermath of the US withdrawal, brilliantly documents the Taliban transition from militia to military regime; Lakota Nation vs United States, from directors Jesse Short Bull and Laura Tomaselli, an unmissable political chronicle for our times that has been hailed for its impressive power; Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party, by director Ian White, about the belligerent brilliance of  the legendary Australian post-punk band, fronted by Nick Cave; the savagely confronting yet ultimately inspiring Seven Winters in Tehran, from director Steffi Niederzoll, which lays bare both the brutal and the subtle methods of the Iranian regime; and The Mountains, a unique, wryly funny and deeply moving family self-portrait on reconciliation and loss by Norwegian director Christian Einshøj.

Staying with documentaries, Scott Hicks, Kerry Heysen and Jett Heysen-Hicks have a second World Premiere at the Festival.  Their Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund (AFFIF) film The Musical Mind – a portrait in process gives a glimpse into the private worlds and elite musical processes of four superstar musicians – Daniel Johns, David Helfgott, Simon Tedeschi and, once again, Ben Folds – brought together through their connection with the blockbuster movie Shine and its director Scott Hicks.  These four enormous talents are interwoven by portraits, created on camera, by renowned artist Loribelle Spirovski. A celebration of the individuality of the creative brain, The Musical Mind explores the remarkable ability of four extraordinary musicians to channel their unique instincts and individual neurodiversity into sublime musical creations, unlocking profound emotion through the borderless language of music.

Special Presentations


This year’s AFF Special Presentations program returns including, direct from Toronto, Christo Nikou’s Fingernails, a star-studded romantic drama from the director of AFF2020 hit, Apples and his team of collaborators led by producer Cate Blanchett, starring Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter), Riz Ahmed (The Sound of Metal), Jeremy Allen White (The Bear), Luke Wilson and Annie Murphy.  The Special Presentations program also includes Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles, a vivid, infectiously joyous exploration of the meteoric rise and cultural re-emergence of The Wiggles (director Sally Aitken); Strange Way of Life, a ravishing queer short western from the master of black comedy, Pedro Almodóvar, starring Ethan Hawke and Pedro Pascal; and the endearing dramedy Uproar, an endearingly rich, feel-good coming- of-age film set in Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1981 that portrays both a Māori teenager and his nation grappling with understanding their place in the world.

Country Spotlight: Indonesia

AFF is proud to present A Spotlight On Indonesia, a selection of films that proclaim the cinema of Indonesia is as rich and wondrous as the diverse cultures within the country itself.  One of Australia’s nearest geographic neighbours, the archipelago of Indonesia comprises about 6,000 inhabited islands and a population of 277 million people, making it the world’s fourth most populated country and among the most culturally rich, as reflected in its cinema.

AFF CEO & Creative Director Mat Kesting says: “AFF audiences will recall Indonesian features Autobiography by Makbul Mubarak and The Seen and Unseen by Kamila Andini which won the AFF Official Competition in 2022 and 2018 respectively – both extraordinary films. This spotlight on Indonesian cinema builds on this connection and draws focus to the wealth of cinema produced by Indonesia’s thriving screen industry.

“A punk revenge drama, a sweet doc about irrepressible creatives and dangdut street music and the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival’s Indonesian Screen Award winner, The Exiles, are presented alongside other cinematic gems. This is an invitation for South Australian audiences to bring a curious mind to enjoy this refreshing window to Indonesia. We are thrilled to confirm the filmmakers will be official guests of AFF, generating a unique opportunity to cultivate friendships, stronger connection, understanding and insight.”

The films in this program include the previous announced Galang (director Adriyanto Dewo), Like & Share (director Gina S. Noer), Monisme (director Riar Rizaldi), Orpa (director Theogracia Rumansara), The Exiles (director Lola Amaria) and The Tone Wheels (director Yuda Kurniawan).

World Cinema 2023

Looking further afield, AFF’s World Cinema presents audiences with a lens-eye view of life in countries around the globe including Sudan, Iran, Austria, Spain, Germany, France, Mongolia, the USA, Canada, Japan, Argentina, China, Sweden, Norway and Australia from local, national and international filmmakers plus celebrated award winners from Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Tribeca, Bologna, Locarno and Karlovy Vary.  The many highlights in this exceptional program include  Todd Haynes’ Cannes-acclaimed May December, starring Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner Anatomy of a Fall; Berlin – Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize winner Afire; Club Zero, starring Mia Wasikowska;  Locarno Golden Leopard winner Critical Zone, a portrait of an enigmatic drug dealer in the Tehran underworld; Australian actor Mark Leonard Winter’s directorial debut The Rooster, starring Hugo Weaving; Wim Wender’s brilliant Perfect Days; Hirokazu Kore-eda masterful Monster; the Australian premiere of the animated French sci-fi noir Mars Express; the Argentinian genre-hopping fable The Delinquents;  and from Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, The Sweet East the sardonic directorial debut for Sean Price Williams (the Safdie brothers’ regular cinematographer).

Change Award 2023

Four documentaries will compete for AFF’s annual Change Award, established in 2020. They are After Work, a thought-provoking, globe-hopping look at work/life balance (director Erik Gandini); Black Cockatoo Crisis, an urgent call to protect the habitats of three iconic native Australian birds before they face extinction (director Jane Hammond); Is There Anybody Out There?, a self-directed, hyper-personal piece by Ella Glendining about her determined quest to find someone who shares her rare disability; and On The Adamant, from acclaimed observational documentarist Nicolas Philibert, who brings his compassionate craft into the lives of those aboard the Adamant, a unique day care centre for those with mental disabilities, that floats in the middle of the Seine.

Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund

The October program will see the World Premiere of the AFFIF documentary You Should Have Been Here Yesterday, a poetic homage to Australia’s early surf-culture with unearthed footage set to an original soundtrack from festival favourite Jolyon Hoff, alongside the AFFIF works MY NAME’S BEN FOLDS i play piano and The Musical Mind – a portrait in process and the previously announced special preview of Speedway, Australian premiere of Housekeeping for Beginners and World Premieres of Rewards for the Tribe, Her Name Is Nanny Nellie and Isla’s Way.

Music on Film

Films about music always get the AFF audience on its feet and this year is no exception. As well as the competition film Mutiny in Heaven: The Birthday Party, AFF’s Music on Film program features It’s Only Life After All, an inspiring and soothing portrait of folk-rock legends Indigo Girls, Joan Baez – I Am A Noise, Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill and Peter Doherty: Stranger in My Own Skin filmed over 10 years by Docherty’s wife Katia deVidas.

And, in a live music and film event on the Festival’s closing weekend that cannot be missed, The Surf Film Archive – which has been digging into the dusty cupboards of original surf filmmakers to find and restore Australia and New Zealand’s lost surf films – has collaborated
with salty legends Headland, in full eight-piece band mode, to present a one-off witch’s brew of original music and never-before-seen surf film footage, all projected across three massive screens at the stunning Capri Theatre.  Performing members include Ken Gormly (The Cruel Sea), Murray Paterson (The Dark Horses), Brock Fitzgerald (Wolf & Cub), Christian Pyle (Acre).

Bettison & James Award

The 2023 Bettison & James Award, administered by the Adelaide Film Festival on behalf of the Jim Bettison and Helen James Foundation, was tonight awarded – at AFF’s official program launch – to Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna Elder, Uncle Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner AM, a world- renowned performer and cultural ambassador of Ngarrindjeri arts, crafts, martial arts and traditional culture. His work spans performance, traditional dance and song, cultural advice and handcrafting of traditional shields, clubs, boomerangs and spears. He is a strong advocate and mentor for his people and his culture, and has featured in film, theatre and documentary across Australia and internationally.  Uncle Moogy reconnected his communities with the traditional art of canoe building, by crafting the first Ngarrindjeri bark canoe to be made in over 100 years on Ngarrindjeri Boandik country, in south eastern South Australia (using a high-tech cherry picker to get up the tree). He is constantly reminding his audience to consider Ngarrindjeri and other Aboriginal culture as a living culture, spanning thousands of years.  On a day-to-day basis, you can find Uncle Moogy at the Aboriginal Sobriety Group, which he helped found, or at the South Australian Museum working with Aboriginal communities around Australia to bring ancestors home from Museums here and abroad. It is work he has passionately done for decades.  Uncle Moogy was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2014, the South Australian Premier’s NAIDOC Award in 2021, and was inducted into the SA Environment Hall of Fame in 2021.

Sit down and listen to Uncle Moogy tell his remarkable life story, growing up on a mission, living in and out of jail, sobriety, an order of Australia Medal and what it means to be in the SA Environment Hall of Fame at a dedicated event during the festival.

Don Dunstan Award

The Adelaide Film Festival Board presents the Don Dunstan Award in recognition of an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to Australian screen culture.

Previous recipients include Andrew Bovell, Bruna Papandrea, Judy Davis, Freda Glynn, David Dalaithngu Gulpilil AM, Rolf de Heer, Scott Hicks, Dennis O’Rourke, David Jowsey and the combined contributions of David Stratton AM and Margaret Pomeranz AM.

The 2023 Don Dunstan Award recipient is Sally Riley.

In this year’s Don Dunstan Award essay – A Legacy Behind the Lines – distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt AO reflects on Sally Riley’s robust voice for Aboriginal representation in the film industry: “Sally Riley’s legacy goes beyond the content she has commissioned on the screen. It goes to the capacity building of First Nations creatives in the film and television industry and in seeing First Nations stories becoming central in the national narrative. This legacy also tracks the move from Indigenous people being peripheral to Australian storytelling, to commanding the stories told about us.”

Festival Patron, Margaret Pomeranz AM, will be In Conversation with Sally Riley, at the Art Gallery of South Australia, presented in partnership with Tarnanthi: Festival Of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art.

Short Film Program

AFF is always proud to present the best Short Films from Australian and around the world. This year, two shorts funded through AFFIF will have their world premieres. Blame The Rabbit, by writer/director Elena Carapetis and produced by Festival favourite, Adelaide’s Lisa Scott, screens with The Royal Hotel on Opening Night, as well as part of the Made in SA program. Mating Call, by director Stephanie Jaclyn, has its World Premiere as part of Made in SA and the AIFF film Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) will also screen.

Launched in 2020, the annual Hanlon Larsen Screen Fellowship funds an experimental film project in partnership with Flinders University, The Mercury and Adelaide Film Festival. The Fellowwas was stablished by Peter Hanlon in honour of his friend, collaborator and industry luminary, the late Cole Larsen.  The 2023 recipient Bryce Kraehenbuehl has created an extraordinary experimental short film, Red Earth, that will premiere as part of Made in SA.

Shot on a rare film stock, Aerochrome, Red Earth presents an imagined future where a rediscovered archive of photographs, sound and film captures the beauty of several extinct eco-systems within South Australia.


In announcing the 2023 AFF program, Mat Kesting, AFF CEO & Creative Director, said:

AFF is a fun and welcoming Festival, and we invite everyone to experience the power of cinema and “see in the dark”. The AFF2023 program celebrates courageous filmmaking and offers a chance to reflect on what it is to be alive and see the world differently while being entertained, provoked, and enriched.  From directorial debuts to master filmmakers and those bearing the highest of accolades, each film has been selected with the greatest of care, giving platform to Australian films within a broader international context. There’s serious gold in this program and you’ll thank yourself for seizing the chance to see as much as you can and be part of the festival. Numerous filmmaker and special guests will be in attendance with opportunities to hear from them, for deeper engagement with the most accessible and wonderous artform of our time.

Minister for Arts, Andrea Michaels, said: “As this program demonstrates, South Australia is home to a thriving film industry with this year’s Adelaide Film Festival opening and closing with two remarkable South Australian films – Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel and my name’s Ben Folds – i play piano.”

“The Malinauskas Government is proud to have supported the Adelaide Film Festival to become an annual event – as promised during the election – and to have provided further additional funding to support the creation of new films in this year’s budget.”

Explore the full 2023 program