When he launched it, founder Ravi Srinivasan would never have predicted his fledgling film and music festival would grow into one of Sarnia’s premier entertainment events.
But it has.
The eighth annual South Western International Film Festival (SWIFF) is about to take over the downtown this Thursday, Nov. 3 for four days and nights of films, live music and parties. There will be free workshops with esteemed film directors, actors and writers and 13 films, many of them highly-acclaimed award winners.
If Sarnians show up like they did pre-COVID, it’s estimated 6,000 people will attend SWIFF8.
“In 2015 when we started SWIFF, I never thought about whether this would be going in eight or 10 years,” says Srinivasan who works for the Toronto Film Festival.
“I just wanted my hometown to have a window to a different world through film. I wanted to bring new voices and diverse stories here and contribute to the arts and culture scene in Sarnia-Lambton with quality films,” he said.
Not only did Sarnians support SWIFF from the get-go, sponsors got on board and continue to be involved every year, even through the pandemic. Government grants have also become more plentiful in recent years.
“We’ve established ourselves as a festival with great programming,” Srinivasan said. “But still, each year, we wonder if everyone will come out and every year they do.”
So far, ticket sales are strongest for opening night’s Moonage Daydream, a documentary that explores David Bowie’s extraordinary career with never-before-seen footage.
“If you are a Bowie fan, this will be a visual trip,” said Srinivasan. “Sarnia is a rock and roll music town even more than it’s a film town, so this felt like a natural fit.”
Moonage Daydream, named for a song on Bowie’s Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust album, was never released in Sarnia theatres, so Srinivasan believes there will be a lot of local residents who haven’t had a chance to see it.
It will be shown following a viewing of an original short film called Petrolia by Ontario filmmaker Carly Balestreri. She won the funding for it from SWIFF’s new Sarnia on Screen initiative and shot it in Lambton County this fall.
“We’ve been getting rushes and we’re really glad we started Sarnia on Screen,” Srinivasan said. “It was a gamble but we think it will be a great film and launch Carly’s career.”
In terms of this year’s festival lineup, Srinivasan said his personal favourite is Joyland, Saim Sadiq’s debut feature that explores trans issues and who has the right to desire in Pakistan society.
“It’s got everything,” said Srinivasan. “It’s got energy, it’s very moving and it has the feel good nature of an Indian Bollywood film.
Joyland won several prizes at Cannes and premiered at TIFF to a standing ovation. It shows at SWIFF on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 1:30 p.m.
This year’s lineup certainly has a serious tone but Srinivasan said he worked hard to make room for comedy by including films like I Like Movies, another award winner described as funny and empathetic. It’s the story of a film-obsessed teen pursuing his dreams and testing personal connections in early-2000s suburban Ontario. Director Chandler Levack will take part in a Q & A after the Nov. 4 screening.
For a full list of films and SWIFF activities, visit www.swiff.ca.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: 8th Annual South Western International Film Festival (SWIFF)
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 3 – Sunday, Nov. 6
WHERE: All films at the Imperial Theatre, 168 Christina St. North; Cinegaze live music events at Collide, 148 Front St.; Workshops at various downtown venues.
TICKETS: Individual film tickets available and registration for free workshops available at www.swiff.ca. All Access Pass costs $125 (www.swiff.ca/passes). Film tickets also available at the Imperial Theatre (519-344-7469) or www.imperialtheatre.net.
The Arts Journal highlights Sarnia’s cultural activities. Send your ideas to [email protected]