Award-winning Films and Canadian Stories at SWIFF 2017

Since its inaugural edition in 2015, the South Western International Film Festival (November 2-5, 2017) has been able to bring Sarnia-Lambton award-winning films from around the world the region normally wouldn’t get, making the Imperial Theatre on Christina Street the place to be (not that it normally isn’t!).

This year, SWIFF audiences are in for a serious treat: executive director Ravi Srinivasan has managed to snag more excellent films waiting for you to discover, including The Florida Project, The Square, and Birth of a Family, just three titles in the recently announced line-up (a full list is available on www.swiff.ca) that are set to make waves downtown.

The Florida Project is my don’t-miss film of the festival,” says Srinivasan, who sees a lot of movies.

The film, Sean Baker’s follow-up to 2015’s Tangerine (which made headlines for being shot entirely on iPhones), is one of those miraculous film industry stories in that it’s amazing it exists at all. Starring child actor Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, a young girl who sees her dilapidated Orlando locale through mischievous eyes, and Willem Dafoe as Bobby, a manager of a motel clad in purple paint, The Florida Project is a deeply human experience—a moving, thoughtful, daring, unbelievably warm movie that is as surprising as it is colourful.

And if you’re looking for something a little more… shall we say, misanthropic? Ruben Östlund’s The Square is like an episode of Seinfeld if Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer ran a contemporary art museum in Sweden.

Winner of the Palme d’Or this year at the Cannes Film Festival—assuredly because it features one of the most startling scenes in recent cinematic memory, so profoundly staggering it is destined to remain infamous for years to come—The Square follows Christian (Claes Bang), a museum curator who has his phone stolen and intends to go to great lengths to find the pickpocket who took it. Meanwhile, vignettes that feel like Larry David wrote them infiltrate the day-to-day stasis of the museum, including an on-stage artist interview repeatedly interrupted by a man with Tourette Syndrome in the audience. It’s a movie that constantly asks you, the viewer, if art can go too far—and if it does, will you be the one to put your hand up and say something?

While SWIFF is thrilled to bring The Florida Project and The Square—two of the most buzzed-about films of 2017—to Sarnia, Srinivasan and his team of programmers have made political issues and diverse stories that represent the plight of marginalized people around the world a primary focus in the slate of films playing the Imperial.

“We started SWIFF three years ago to bring diverse stories from around the world to Sarnia-Lambton, a community that was clearly looking for those perspectives,” Srinivasan says. “Given the current political climate, I feel it’s our responsibility to invite films and stories that look beyond the headlines to reveal the humanity behind these issues.”

To that end, look no further than opening night film Detroit, a dramatization of the Algiers Motel incident of 1967 that Sarnia likely hasn’t forgotten. Throughout the festival, SWIFF can truly see the world—including City of Ghosts and The Other Side of Hope, two movies that investigate the Syrian Civil War.

But SWIFF-goers can also see Canadian stories, too, like Tasha Hubbard’s Birth of a Family, a top audience pick at Hot Docs (the largest documentary festival in North America) this year. The documentary reunites four siblings that were separated at childhood by the Sixties Scoop, an initiative by Canadian governments that displaced indigenous youth from their families into non-Indigenous foster and adoption programs (on October 6th, Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett announced $800 million in compensation for survivors). After the screening of this remarkable movie, SWIFF is privileged to host local residential school survivors on stage to continue the conversation about Canada’s past and the fight for indigenous rights.

With short film programs, a two-night concert series (with CineGAZE headliners Born Ruffians and Shilpa Ray), and a community of local businesses activated throughout the weekend, SWIFF 2017 is ready to make Sarnia-Lambton a hub of arts and culture appreciation. Are you? Tickets to all of the above are available at www.swiff.ca. But hurry fast, they won’t last long!