Film festival marks five years of bringing the world to Sarnia

A scene from Bong Joon-ho's Palme D'Or-winning film Parasite, which will be one of 14 feature films showcased at the fifth annual South Western International Film Festival, Nov. 7-10. Handout/Sarnia This Week

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A weekend packed full of award-winning films, in-depth cinematic discussion and cutting edge music awaits attendees to this year’s South Western International Film Festival.

The festival, now celebrating its fifth year, will be showcasing a wide variety of Canadian and international filmmakers with 14 feature films being screened at the Imperial Theatre as well as 12 short films set to be shown at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery Nov. 7-10.

This year’s lineup – which features everything from a riveting Canadian psychological drama to a thoroughly modern take on Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables – is probably SWIFF’s strongest and most diverse lineup to date, said executive director Ravi Srinivasan.

Every film to be screened truly reflects the festival’s original mandate, Srinivasan said, which was to bring culturally diverse films made by a disparate group of storytellers to Sarnia-Lambton.

The film kicking off the festivities on Nov. 7, Bong Joon-ho’s critically-acclaimed, Palme D’Or-winning Parasite, is a perfect example of the diversity that will be on display during the entire weekend, Srinivasan said.

“We’re celebrating our fifth anniversary with probably our most exciting opening night film, Parasite,” he said. “It’s a really timely, biting commentary on the social class structure and the disparities that are happening in South Korea and around the western world. It’s highly entertaining but also very intelligent, buy you never quite know where it’s going. It always keeps you guessing.

“(Parasite) is really is representative of what we’re trying to do with SWIFF,” Srinivasan continued. “We’re trying to bring global stories to Lambton County and that’s why our tagline is Come See the World – I thought it was appropriate to bring one of the world’s most highly touted films as our opening night film.”

Fans of the silver screen will also get a chance to speak with rising Canadian star Kacey Rohl and directors Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, who will be screening their 2019 film White Lie on Saturday, Nov. 9.

A compelling drama about a young Hamilton undergrad who becomes a minor celebrity after faking a cancer diagnosis, the dark and complex story was nominated for Best Canadian Feature Film at TIFF.

“It’s a really fascinating character study and it’ll be great to have them here to engage the community,” Srinivasan said.

Along with a trio of formidable French language features (Les Miserables, Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Quebec’s Antigone), a stunning Senegalese love story (Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story) and a moving and thoughtful buddy pic following the adventures of a young man with Down’s Syndrome pursuing his dream of becoming a professional wrestler (The Peanut Butter Falcon), audiences will also have the opportunity to take a stark look at resonant issues including opioid addiction (the Sudbury-set Castle in the Ground, which will feature a Q&A session with director Joey Klein, producer Will Woods and local addiction specialists) and the struggles of Canada’s indigenous peoples with a presentation of the film nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up.

“This film is a really powerful story about Colten Boushie, this young man who was wrongfully murdered, but it also starts a broader conversation about indigenous identity and how indigenous people are moving forward post-residential schools,” Srinivasan said. “It’s going to be really interesting and following the film we’ll be Skyping in the director, Tasha Hubbard.”

Along with all the silver screen entertainment on offer, the festival will also once again be hosting its two-night music series, CineGaze, featuring seven bands including Toronto electronic music mavens Doomsquad, ‘Garage Rock Princess’ Luna Li and alt-rock favourites Dilly Dally.

All in all, SWIFF’s fifth will be wall-to-wall bliss for film and music lovers, Srinivasan said.

Asked whether he ever thought the festival would last five years and be so pervasive in the community – during this past year SWIFF hosted indigenous film workshops at Walpole Island, Aamjiwnaang and Kettle and Stony Point First Nations and started up a monthly winter series SWIFF Selects – Srinivasan said that he didn’t have an inkling that it would get so big or last so long.

“I didn’t know how long this would last, to be honest,” he said. “But the community is still very supportive of it and we’re still getting recognition from provincial bodies who think what we’re doing is worthwhile. And audience members are still coming out to watch the films. So as long as we continue to have that support, we’re going to continue offering these programs and this type of art and culture to Sarnia-Lambton.

“In Sarnia-Lambton there are definitely a core of people who buy all access passes before we even announce the films, they’re locked in and they’re dedicated,” he added. “And then it’s up to us to add in films which will attract other members of the community who might just want to see one or two films. So I really think this year, our fifth year, is by far our strongest year in terms of offering quality content from around the world. I hope more people will come and see just what we’re doing.”


What: South Western International Film Festival

When: Thursday, Nov. 7 to Sunday, Nov. 10

Where: The Imperial Theatre, the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery and Altspace (CineGaze).

Tickets:, or the Imperial Theatre box office