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The Sydney Film Festival gains a new director, program and hangout venue for all this year.

Imported talent, Nashen Moodley emigrated from Durban, South Africa in January.

Apart from jetting around to various film events, he has lived on his couch and watched film after film to compile the international selection of cinema which will flash on screen from June 6 to 17.

Mr Moodley has never been to the SFF but managed the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) since 2001.

“Typically I watch around 800 films a year.”

For him, festivals provide more than entertainment value.

His theory on festival programming involves pushing past thresholds of comfort and familiarity.

“Watch a film from a country that you’ve never seen before. Watch something that you don’t like the sound of.”

He said it would take time to learn about Sydney’s audience but has gleaned an impression from previous year’s statistics of attendances and film screenings.

“At the same time, you need to be there, you need to feel the audience’s reaction.”

“If you watched 25 films at the festival and you came to me at the end and said I loved every single film, then I’d think I haven’t done a very good job because then I’d think it was too safe.”

His experience on the world film circuit has exposed him to more than art.

“Watching films around the world has really broadened my understanding of the world and really opened me up to different cultures.”

Mr Moodley is friends with previous SFF director Clare Stewart, who is now the Head of Exhibition at the British Film Institute.

“Sydney seems to me to be the centre of the Australian cinema industry,” he said.

“Australian cinema is very popular internationally on the festival circuits – people really look out for Australian films.”

This year there are 18 world premieres of Australian films at the SFF.

He has been following the careers of Australian film makers Cate Shortland, Tony Krawitz and Ivan Sen, among others.

“I was waiting a long time for [Cate] to come up with a second feature well before any of this happened and my moving to Sydney.”

Ms Shortland’s Lore will be a world premiere this year and was preceded by her 2004 feature Somersault.

The Hub, a new meeting space at lower Town Hall will also debut this season.

“The Hub is dramatically different … [it] will really improve the atmosphere of the festival because I think one of the things the festival has needed is a central place for people to hang out and talk about cinema.”

By Deborah Erwin