She will leave after five years; this year’s festival opens June 8.

Two weeks before the opening of the Sydney Film Festival, director Clare Stewart has announced her decision to step down.

“It has been a rich and satisfying five years in which I have achieved the critical change objectives of transforming the program and attracting new and bigger audiences with 40 percent of our current audience attending the festival for the first time in the last three years,” she told ScreenDaily.

“The 2011 line-up is a festival I am proud to call my last and, having gleaned so much about the distribution and production sectors in this role, I am excited about what the future holds.”

The biggest change during her tenure has been the introduction of a competition, which is now in its fourth year. The board had committed to the concept before her arrival.

Chinese director Chen Kaige is president of the jury this year and his co-jurors include UK producer Mark Herbert from Warp, New Zealand actress Kerry Fox and two more that are yet to be announced.

Since all 12 competition films were revealed two weeks ago, Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life has won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter has won the grand prize in Critics Week.

The festival has improved its bank balance in the past half-decade thanks to a bigger commitment from the New South Wales Government, and a rise in ticket sales despite a reduction in the event’s run-time.

The festival opens on June 8 with Hanna and closes on June 19 with Beginners.