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Board permanently cancels SWIFF after founder’s unexpected death

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Cathy Dobson

It just wouldn’t be the same.

That’s the unanimous opinion of the SWIFF board of directors that hoped to continue the annual Southwestern International Film Festival after the sudden death of founder Ravi Srinivasan. The decision to shut it down was announced today.

After bringing world-renowned films and filmmakers to Sarnia every fall for the past eight years, the festival has folded, said board chair Li Vijayabalan.

The dates that were booked at the Imperial Theatre for this year’s SWIFF have been cancelled.

Srinivasan’s death in January at age 37 – and the subsequent end of SWIFF – are a great loss to his friends, family and the community, Vijayabalan said.

Li Vijayabalan

“We wanted to keep the festival going and originally thought we could,” he said. “But we wanted to do it right and there is no one to fill Ravi’s shoes.”

“The passing of Ravi has illuminated the exceptional qualifies that made him uniquely qualified to bring a world-class film festival to Sarnia-Lambton,” reads a statement issued this week by the full board.

“Ravi’s discerning taste for films, vast industry connections, remarkable curatorial skills, and unwavering dedication to our local festival are simply irreplaceable,” said the statement.

“As a friend and SWIFF volunteer, it’s incredibly unfortunate,” said Vijayabalan. “It brought so much to our community.”

SWIFF began in 2015 when Srinivasan announced he had a dream to bring movies from all over the world to his hometown.

“I just want my hometown to have a window to a different world through film,” he said.

At the time, he worked as a programming associate for TIFF and later became a programmer for Canadian and international feature films. By 2022, he was TIFF’s senior manager of festival programming.

While he found professional success, he never forgot his hometown and his commitment to develop .

Ravi Srinivasan (Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television)

The inaugural event was a mini-film fest for local high school students and grew into a four-day movie, music and film-making festival at the Imperial Theatres and Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.

SWIFF received strong local sponsorship, numerous grants and was operating in the black when the board made the difficult decision to shut down.

Vijayabalan said the organization is being dissolved and all remaining funds will pay off outstanding bills, then be donated to a tribute day being planned in Srinivasan’s memory Nov. 18. 

Sarnia has already proved it loves a film festival and Vijayabalan said he hopes that another visionary like Srinivasan will start a new one.

“I think something like SWIFF would be great. Sarnia needs it and people would love to come back,” he said. “We hope that anyone who may be interested will reach out to us.”

The Nov. 18 tribute to Srinivasan is unassociated with SWIFF and friends are fundraising for it. An announcement about the event will be issued in the coming weeks, said Vijayabalan. Those interested in supporting the tribute event should contact [email protected]

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