The much-anticipated Screenwave International Film Festival ’20 (SWIFF) clicks into high gear action this Thursday January 9th. Now in its fifth year, SWIFF is the fastest-growing film festival in Regional Australia.
Held across 16 days, SWIFF brings audiences a culturally diverse and inclusive program of over 65 world-class films, from Australia and abroad. The Jetty Memorial Theatre is SWIFF ‘home’, but an exciting and eclectic selection of films will be staged at the Bellingen Memorial Hall over the festival period.
The team behind the SWIFF juggernaut are passionate cinephiles with a youthful energy and enthusiasm that is both inspiring and contagious, resulting in a sleek, 16-day adventure for film-lovers. Saige Browne, SWIFF Programs Assistant & Volunteers Coordinator, is an integral part of this team. She took time out from the busy last minute SWIFF preparations to chat about the dramatic evolution of this successful festival, festival highlights and the impressive year-round initiatives in which the team are involved.
Saige how long have you been involved with SWIFF?
I attended SWIFF in its very first year, the summer of 2015/16, while visiting the Coffs Coast from Sydney. I was raised in this area and after returning here in 2016, I volunteered for the next festival in 2017 and joined the team year-round ahead of the third edition of the festival!
How would you describe your role with SWIFF?
Lots of fun actually. I do a little bit of a lot of things! From helping Kate Howat (SWIFF Co-Director) build the festival program to coordinating volunteers across the festival.
What drew you to get involved with SWIFF initially?
I was just so inspired by Kate Howat and Dave Horsely, co-founders and co-directors of Screenwave and SWIFF! Two of my big passions are film and regional access to arts. So the opportunity to join such an incredible team was something I knew I had to push myself to achieve.
So how has SWIFF evolved over the time you’ve been involved?
It’s been unbelievable. I think a good example of how it’s grown is the audience we’ve started to develop for experimental film. In SWIFF’s first year I was one of three people in the audience for the animated documentary TOWER. I was blown away by the film and wished there was a full house to share the experience. Seeing a queue down the main street of Bellingen for the incredible TERROR NULLIUS last year, to now seeing presale tickets already moving quickly for some really provoking films this festival is super exciting!
How important do you think this festival is to our local community and why?
I think it’s vital. Film is a truly crucial way in which we communicate our stories, values and passions with the world. To be able to experience films like an environmental documentary from Macedonia, an intimate portrait of survival from Syria, a moving family film from Kenya and ageless queer romance from France – I think it’s a vital part of connecting local community to a global conversation.
The SWIFF team are youthful. Do you believe this influences film choice?
It does have some impact. This year SWIFF is featuring the ‘Wild Sides’ program, which does reflect the tastes of the SWIFF team. This is a late night program featuring films that certainly push the envelope and will have audiences on the edge of their comfort zone, if not seat. But in general we definitely represent all genres and the varied tastes of our broad audience.
I can imagine that SWIFF requires a dedicated team of volunteers to be successful. Do you have enough support from volunteers?
Absolutely. Our volunteers are the best. Every year we have almost all our volunteers from the previous festival return, always really excited to be part of the team once again. We’re so grateful for our amazing team of volunteers!
What are your personal highlights for this year’s SWIFF?
One of my favourite things about attending film festivals is heading into a film without any prior knowledge. This year I reckon audiences should go in blind for dark comedy ‘THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE’, the brilliant ‘ALICE’, and the absolutely undeniable ‘BEATS’.
The Screenwave team behind SWIFF are also involved in many other year-round initiatives. Can you describe these initiatives and your role personally?
Over winter for the last two years I’ve hit the road travelling to regional schools across NSW teaching beginner filmmaking through our Nextwave Youth Film Development Program. Nextwave is deliberately regional. We are targeting young people who may never have considered pursuing creative fields. We run workshops at schools to introduce students to writing, filming and editing with the hope that we inspire them to enter the Nextwave Film Competition.
This year Nextwave has attracted 80 entrants from an array of regional towns. Nextwave Youth Film Festival is an integral part of SWIFF, being held at the C.ex Coffs Friday January 17th 6.30 pm, where audiences will have a chance to see the finalists’ productions.
Nextwave is one of the most rewarding parts of my year, especially hearing from young filmmakers over multiple years and seeing their creative voices develop!
Screenwave’s Film Outreach Australia Program works to build film communities throughout regional Australia by enabling communities to bring fantastic films from Australia and around the world to their towns. And of course Screenwave’s Cinematinee brings regular arthouse films to the Coffs Coast.
So finally, why should audiences support SWIFF ’20?
Because it’s so much fun! I especially adore working in Bellingen over the festival because it just makes for such a brilliant day out – catch a midday film while the day is hot, duck out to explore the town and grab a drink, then head back to the cinema for a delicious late night delight. There’s always impassioned post-film discussion and new friends to be made!
The Coffs Coast roster of annual festivals and events is amazingly diverse, and only thrives more with audience support.