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Festival will home stream films to counter winter blahs

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The format will be dramatically different, but Sarnia’s 6th annual SWIFF intends to celebrate the art of filmmaking once again, despite a pandemic.

Executive director Ravi Srinivasan says his team seriously considered cancelling this year’s South Western International Film Festival. Severely limited theatre seating and social distancing seemed like insurmountable challenges.

“But as I got more knowledge about how other festivals are doing it, we felt we could bring in quality programing,” said Srinivasan who is also a programing associate for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Srinivasan says SWIFF6 will almost certainly take a financial hit, but he decided to pull the films from local venues, cut the pricing, and stream them online.

He’s also pushed the dates back to Nov. 19-22, three weeks later than usual, when Srinivasan believes pandemic-weary film fans will look forward to an online diversion.

The later date also gives organizers more time to prepare for a festival offering the usual number of feature films – about a dozen — and a wide array of online workshops and master classes.

Virtual festivalgoers will even be able to participate in an interactive Q&A with writers and producers after the show using a streaming platform.

Srinivasan said he’s excited about the lineup, which will be announced in late September or early October and is sure to include some homegrown talent. But he expects to lose ticket sale revenue.

“It’s a different kind of event online and we’re competing against other home entertainment,” he said. “So we’re doing an S.O.S. fundraising campaign to try to make up some of it.”

The Save Our SWIFF (SOS) campaign will run for one month starting Sept. 8 and offer Party Packs in exchange for a $50 donation. A Party Pack includes vouchers for local restaurant meals and beverages from local craft breweries.

“It’s fun stuff that supports the festival and helps cross-promote with local businesses that will also be looking for more customers once the weather changes and patios have to close,” said Srinivasan.

The idea is that donors will spend their vouchers on takeout meals and drinks to be consumed while they gather around home screens to watch SWIFF films.

Donation packages are tiered and provide everything from opening night tickets to four-film packs and party packs, depending on the size of the donation.

On Sept. 8, a link will be available at www.swiff.ca to make S.O.S. donations.

As in other years, some SWIFF6 workshops will be free. And a $19,000 Ontario Trillium Fund grant is supporting a SWIFF Industries Summit with reps from groups like Telefilm Canada and Hot Docs taking part in panel discussions.

“If what the experts are saying about the second wave is true, we’ll all need some kind of event in November to get the community together and have interesting conversations,” said Srinivasan.

“It feels necessary to have SWIFF this year.”

The Arts Journal celebrates all things cultural in our community.  Send your ideas to [email protected]

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