Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky is one of 12 films chosen by the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) to be in its inaugural official competition and will also be the opening night film on June 4.

The competition also features three world premieres including Vincent Ward's New Zealand documentary Rain Of The Children, in which he revisits a subject he made a film about more than 25 years ago, and two Australian films - Matthew Newton's Three Blind Mice and Nash Edgerton's debut drama The Square.

NZ Film is the international sales agent for Ward's sixth feature, Pathe has The Square and Australian sales agent Odin's Eye has just picked up world sales rights for Three Blind Mice, about three young Australian naval officers on shore leave just before being shipped out to Iraq. Ewen Leslie, Toby Schmitz and Newton himself play the three officers and there are many familiar faces in the cast including Pia Miranda, Barry Otto, Jacki Weaver, Alex Dimitriades, Brendan Cowell and Charles 'Bud' Tingwell.

Three of the 12 competition titles are being shown this month at Cannes: UK artist Steve McQueen's debut Hunger, which opens Un Certain Regard; Fernando Eimbcke's Lake Tahoe , and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, which was written by Australian scriptwriter Max Mannix.

All are Australian premieres as are the remaining five films in competition: Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light; Antonello Grimaldi's Quiet Chaos, starring and co-written by Nanni Moretti; Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss, starring Australian actor Abbie Cornish; Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, and the autobiographical My Winnipeg, from director Guy Maddin, who will perform the film's narration live when the film shows at the SFF.

The winning film will be announced at the Sydney Opera House on June 16 and will receive A$60,000. Organisers said today that the competition rewarded new directions in film: films with emotional power and resonance; films that were audacious, cutting edge or courageous; and those that go beyond the usual treatment of their subject matter.

Each competition title will get its own red carpet gala each evening for the first 12 days of the festival, and a second screening on the next morning. The full programme is being announced on May 8. There will be a focus on Mexican films and the work the Scottish redheaded actor Deborah Kerr, children's films, films by and about people with disabilities and, like last year, live events celebrating films with musical themes. The 55th Sydney Film Festival ends on June 22.