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While the latest news is that Sydney’s housing prices are falling and construction figures are in decline, we’re all living with the past frenzy of building projects. Like many, our foreground has recently been shortened by a new block of flats. They’ve cut out our view of the park’s spreading fig trees, leaving us with only the greenery gleaned from a neighbour whose escapee pot plants make a bid for the sun in the patch of ground next to the wheelie bins. Asthma weed grows where it can, and agapanthus line the street. One of those weedy vines with white flowers and choko-like fruit full of seeds completes the picture.

For over a year while they built those flats a crane loomed large, its movements slow and stealthy, until the night when the street was closed off and workers climbed around it like fireflies, their torches flickering as they dismantled the structure. In the morning it was gone, and I couldn’t understand the empty space I was looking at.

Now the view from our bedroom window is like Rear Window. Tonight the top flat is lit up so we can see an extravagantly furnished balcony. Large glass doors open and shut as people walk between there and the low-slung couches of the lounge room. I watch for drug deals, or a woman who waits for her sailor.

We saw a version of Rear Window at this year’s Sydney Film Festival – Number 37. Made in South Africa, it places the action in a rundown neighbourhood of flapping garbage and empty corridors where people keep their heads down. More violent, more complex, more visceral than the original, its leads are a woman who can’t be supressed and a man who watches his neighbours from an apartment with a wall the colour of blood.

The Sydney Film Festival has been running since 1954, and since 1974 it has been based at the State Theatre. Held in winter, it’s a time of dark cold evenings, the wind whipping along George St as you rush to a 6pm session. Queues form along Market St, waiting for the foyer doors to open, and cars splash water from the gutters onto the unsuspecting unlucky.

The first time I went to the film festival it was with a true believer with her thermos and sandwiches. We sat in the theatre all day, watching films from Argentina and Romania and Mexico and Spain as the auditorium got fuggier with damp clothes and the occasional curry or egg sandwich introduced from the outer world. My friend had walked up to and through the foyer briskly, leaving me to goggle at the mirrors, the filigree gold lace doors, the gothic reliefs, the terrazzo floor – everywhere gold, every surface embroidered, embellished. She hurried on past the sweeping marble staircase and columns then into the auditorium with its massive chandelier and plush seats. The dome, the statues, the clock – not a straight line or a plain corner anywhere. I stared, starstruck.