Executive Director Ravi Srinivasan. Photo courtesy of SWIFF via Facebook.Executive Director Ravi Srinivasan. Photo courtesy of SWIFF via Facebook.

SWIFF discontinued, leaving gap in the community

The Southwestern International Film Festival (SWIFF) will no longer be held but members are hopeful a cinematic void in the community will eventually be filled.

SWIFF's board of directors announced the discontinuation of the film festival last week, months after the untimely death of Executive Director and Founder Ravi Srinivasan.

The 37-year-old passed away suddenly in January 2023.

"The passing of [Srinivasan] has illuminated the exceptional qualities that made him uniquely qualified to bring a world-class Film Festival to Sarnia Lambton," read a media statement. "[Srinivasan's] discerning taste for films, vast industry connections, remarkable curatorial skills, and unwavering dedication to our local festival are simply irreplaceable."

Liwordson Vijayabalan, who has served as board chair for the past few years, initially intended to continue the festival by volunteering to fill Srinivasan's role.

"We didn't have the ability to financially hire somebody to take [Srinivasan's] role - especially with the amount of work it would take taking on the festival. So I had volunteered to do that with support from the rest of the board members and the staff as well," Vijayabalan said. "For us, it was more about the sustainability long-term and our ability to find a successor if successful this year."

Although the board anticipated a good showing this year, as many would have attended to honour Srinivasan's memory, the success of future festivals were too uncertain.

"We didn't see a path for making that sustainable and we didn't want to get ourselves deeper into an operation that we couldn't sustain into the future," he said.  

Vijayabalan said it's sad to discontinue the film festival as it meant a lot, not only to local residents but to those outside of the community as well.

The festival launched in downtown Sarnia in 2015.

Vijayabalan said the board recognizes that ending the festival will leave a gap within the community.

"Personally, if anyone wants to reach out to me or any of the other board members that has aspirations of starting a film festival... or maybe there are existing film festivals in town that would like to take advantage of a captive audience that we have, we would really love - and I think Ravi would have loved to as well - pass that baton on and amplify other people's visions."

Collaborators and close friends of Srinivasan will pay tribute to him during a memorial event on November 18. The event is not associated with SWIFF. Those interested in supporting the event can contact adamgregorycook@gmail.com.

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