Around The City, Peter Ellis
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Swiffly Come and Gone


The South-West International Film Festival (SWIFF) is an annual London eye opener lasting just one day: it could spur so much more, says Peter Ellis.

They’re “hand grenades of ideas … when they work, they hit, they explode, and you will never forget them”. Paolo Bacigalupi’s celebration of his own craft of short story telling cries out for short cinema too. Film festivals are their clarion call. Like the objects of its admiration, the South-West International Film Festival is modest in size. Showing good things indeed do come in small packages, this mini-fiesta organized by film-maker Laurentiu Huianu and his wife Penny Allsop, has been running for five years in pubs and clubs in and around London SW19.

City Writers Room

Enjoying the Brazilian seaside honeymoon from hell in director Jon Lewis’s surreal masterpiece ‘Hotel Paraíso’.

Some of the movies on show were a real blast. Aslak Danbolt’s vertigo-inducing tale of base-jumpers hurtling themselves off fjords in his native Norway was a feast for the eyes, with spectacular cinematography. And it was the quality of the images that hit me hardest in the solar plexus: bright, jewel-like vistas, with flights over the terracotta rooftops of Madrid, surge waves crashing on a Brazilian beach and the bucolic beauty of an autumn morning in England.


‘Alex’ by Haroun Al Shaater and Yaz Al Shaater, this year’s Golden Leaf Grand Jury prize winner at SWIFF

The human stories most moved my heart. The isolation and claustrophobia of heartbreak was brilliantly portrayed in Haroun Al Shaater’s prize-winning short, as a man crunches up in grief on the bed he once shared with his love. Sarah Townsend’s documentary ‘Noma: Forgiving Apartheid’ followed West End actress Noma Dumezweni’s return to South Africa to meet her father after thirty years when the country’s politics tore her family apart. And the agonies of abuse and self-harm were exposed, albeit in a somewhat mannered way, in 17-year-old Amy Beedle’s creation ‘Perspective’.

Festivals like SWIFF give a welcome fillip for those hoping to make it big. While some students’ diploma works didn’t quite master all the varied skills of movie making, others were beautifully crafted. Zacarias and MacGregor’s blood-soaked LA shoot-out could match Hollywood at its gory best, while Kepa Sojo’s modern-day gothic was a brilliant Basque take on the zombie genre. Spaniard Tony Bestard’s story of a film sound engineer was particularly effective, as his hero fired his isolated infatuation and provided the soundtrack for the silent comings and goings of his pretty neighbour.

While dramas burst on the screen, the feeling of SWIFF is gentle, warm and friendly; a family atmosphere of drinks, music (provided , as ever, by the Colliers Wood International Ukulele Orchestra) and good cheer, with the audience as multi-national as the cinematic line-up (perhaps even more so: the paucity of films from Africa and Asia was conspicuous). It’s easy to be snide about such local offerings (as in this year’s parody by Linda Yellen ‘The Last Film Festival’ starring Dennis Hopper) but they do offer something of value: so much more than YouTube and such a welcome counterweight to the cinema chains and pay-per-view sites.

Can’t such mayfly events spawn something more permanent? What I would like to see is a website dedicated to short films, showcasing up-and-coming talent. Not for all-comers like YouTube, where it’s so difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, but something considered, curated and – perforce – free. And yes: it’s far easier said than done!


Yaz Al Shaater receiving the Golden Leaf award on behalf of his brother Haroun Al Shaater.

The fifth South-West International Film Festival (SWIFF) took place on Saturday 26 November 2016, with the sixth planned a year hence. Keep up on developments at: and the SWIFF Facebook page:



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