SWIFF 2018 makes waves as regional NSW’s premier film festival

Last week the annual Screenwave International Film Festival ended on a high for 2018, enjoying record attendances, a successful pioneering public art project, and culminating in a star-packed closing night which included David Wenham and producer Robert Connolly.

The popularity of the Coffs Coast festival, which is now in its third year, reached something of a tipping point in the hearts and minds of the community and tourists for 2018. With a three-week showcase of world-class cinema, extensive media coverage and bold online and physical local presence, it has earned its place as regional NSW’s premier cinema event.

Staged by festival director Dave Horsley and artistic director Kate Howat plus a core team working on programs, marketing, community engagement and publicity, SWIFF also drew in contributions from more than 50 volunteers and a range of businesses from across the Coffs Coast.

“SWIFF has hit its turning point. It’s pulling creative collaborators, filmmakers, and festivalgoers from all over the country – and offers up a diverse range for people to enjoy across all parts of the filmmaking process”, said Kate.

There was a record of more than 5,000 cinema attendees this year at Jetty Memorial Theatre and Bellingen Memorial Hall – more than a 30% increase on 2017. SWIFF screened more than 70 feature films (in 90-plus sessions), including sold-out sessions and stand-by queues. Its national premieres included Bad Idea Gone Wrong, The Judge, The Starry Sky Above Me and Bending The Arc. It also ran 15 post-screening Q&As with audiences and guests, who included Lindy Morrison of The Go-Betweens, David Wenham, Sophia Marinos of Big hART and veteran surf journalist Phil Jarratt.

This year SWIFF ran a concurrent industry program, supported by Regional Arts NSW, which brought in 12 industry guests, including award winners such as director and AFTRS alumni Jonathan Ogilvie, documentary maker Sascha Ettinger-Epstein, sound designer Scott Collins, as well as representatives from Screenworks and Arts Mid North Coast, who also ran workshops and panel discussions. In all, the workshops and industry networking events were incredibly well received and were attended by more than 100 local filmmakers and creatives.

But the festival made its presence felt in Coffs Harbour much more prominently than simply attracting audiences into the cinema. This year, the team also launched SWIFF Light Box, the largest free public projection art exhibition in regional NSW and a collaboration between art projection wizards Illuminart and four notable local artists in the region. Their art was animated into a light display beamed onto four locations in the Coffs Jetty precinct, including a 30-metre high cliff at South Coffs Island. It is estimated that about 8,000 visitors attended SWIFF Light Box over its nine nights, taking the magic of moving image well beyond the four walls of a cinema and into the local community.