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South Western film festival turning 5, continues to grow

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Cathy Dobson

Yet another new feature is being introduced by Sarnia’s own film festival as it continues to prosper.

Founder Ravi Srinivasan is launching a new series of filmmaking workshops for Indigenous teens.

They rarely take advantage of all the South Western International Film Festival has to offer, so Srinivasan is breaking down transportation barriers and taking the workshops to them.

Srinivasan, 33, says he knows what it’s like to grow up in Sarnia with few outlets for his creativity. He went to St. Patrick’s high school, where he says he wanted to make his voice heard through film and writing.

“I had great high school teachers, but no extra-curricular activities to cultivate these aspirations,” he said.

“If I’d had a film or screen writing workshop, maybe I would have had a leg up when I started pursuing a career.”

Eventually, he went to Wilfrid Laurier University and studied film and English literature.

For six years now, he’s worked for the Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs, and recently was promoted to official programmer. He assists with film selection for the festival by screening 20 to 25 movies each week. That’s a whopping 450 films a year.

In 2015, Srinivasan used his access to so many provocative and engaging films to establish an annual film festival in his hometown. His Toronto job gives him more credibility when inviting directors, filmmakers and workshop facilitators to Sarnia, he says.

“I call SWIFF my passion project.”

He works with fellow St. Pat’s grad Jennie Chu, a small team of SWIFF employees, a board of directors and about 10 volunteers.

The first SWIFF screened nine films. The fifth anniversary will feature 15 films (titles TBA), two concerts, a free short film program at the public art gallery downtown, a virtual reality exhibit and a monthly film series.

More than 5,000 attended SWIFF last year, Srinivasan said.

“The first year I spent a lot of my own money. Now we’ve got a budget of $150,000 to $175,000 that is supported by government, local sponsors and, of course, ticket sales.”

The festival runs slightly in the black, Srinivasan added. “We finish with just enough profit to start writing grant applications for the next year.”

That paid off handsomely for 2019 with SWIFF getting a $19,500 Celebrate Ontario grant, $12,000 in Creative County funding, and another $9,000 from the Ontario Arts Council.

The Creative County money, as well as sponsorships from NOVA Chemicals and the Carpenters Union Local 1256, is making it possible to introduce three Indigenous filmmaking workshops at Aamjiwnaang, Kettle/Stoney Point and Walpole Island this summer.

“The idea spawned from workshops at the art gallery during the festival,” Srinivasan said. “We realized we weren’t getting a lot of indigenous youth signing up.”

SWIFF board member Candace Scott-Moore of Kettle Point advocated for free workshops. Toronto filmmaker Thirza Cuthand will lead the first July 19-20 at the Aamjiwnaang community centre.

Teens ages 14 -19 are urged to register now at  Subsequent workshops TBA.



WHAT:  5th annual South Western International Film Festival

WHEN:  Nov. 7 -10

WHERE:  Downtown Sarnia. Films at Imperial Theatre.

TICKETS: All-access passes are on sale now at early bird rates.

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