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'His laugh could fill any room': Remembering SWIFF founder Ravi Srinivasan

Tara Jeffrey Ravi Srinivasan Ravi Srinivasan could light up a room.
Ravi Srinavasan greets a packed Imperial Theatre on opening night of SWIFF 2016. (Troy Shantz photo)

Tara Jeffrey

Ravi Srinivasan
Ravi Srinivasan could light up a room. And that's exactly how friends, colleagues and loved ones are remembering the Sarnia man, known well for enriching Sarnia-Lambton's arts and culture scene, who passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, at age 37. "Everyone who knew him loved him," said Paul Doyle, Srinivasan's former teacher at St. Patrick's high school who was also involved in the beginnings of the South West International Film Festival (SWIFF), which Ravi launched in 2015. "He was charismatic and had a great sense of humour. Though driven to succeed, he was kind and generous," Doyle added. "He valued his relationships. He had big dreams and the ability to organize to achieve them. Ravi made the work joyful for all of us. "I will miss him terribly." Srinivasan, who grew up in Corunna, most recently worked as Senior Manager of Festival Programming for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

A fundraiser launched Sunday to help cover funeral and memorial expenses for Srinivasan had reached tens of thousands of dollars within hours – a testament to the impact he had on so many.

“Ravi was an amazing young man who lived his life to the fullest,” wrote Dave Hunter, who launched the Go Fund Me page. "His smile was infectious and his laugh could fill any room. Words can’t describe the pain his brother Hari and his family are feeling right now. Let’s stand behind him and help in any way possible.”

"Ravi was so warm, so funny, so brilliant and such an incredible forger of friendships and communities," Canadian filmmaker and journalist Chandler Levack wrote on Twitter. "This is an unfathomable loss for Canadian film."

Srinivasan graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University and, after his post-grad at Sheridan College, landed a job as a programming associate for TIFF in 2013. In 2019 he became a programmer for Canadian and International feature films, then took on a full-time role as Senior Manager, Festival Programming in 2022.

He also served as senior programmer of National Canadian Film Day and international programmer for the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

And while he climbed the ranks at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, it was his own passion project — SWIFF — that kept him coming back to his roots in Sarnia-Lambton.

Ravi Srinivasan addresses a full house at the Imperial Theatre during the inaugural event. SWIFF Photo

“We want to help make Sarnia a place where young people can create film,” he told The Journal back in 2015 as he launched the inaugural event, first, with a mini-film fest for local high school students, followed by the first SWIFF weekend of film screenings at the Imperial Theatre and workshops at the Judith & Norman Alix Art Gallery.

That first year, Srinivasan poured his heart — and a lot of his own money — into his dream of making Sarnia a cultural hotspot for movie lovers and aspiring filmmakers.

In 2016, he added a Saturday afternoon family film screening, with 100% of proceeds going to Noelle’s Gift, the charity named after his dear friend Noelle Paquette who died in 2013. He would be named to the Mayor's Honour List later that year.

By 2019, he’d received a $19,500 Celebrate Ontario grant, $12,000 in Creative County funding, and another $9,000 from the Ontario Arts Council, along with dozens of local sponsors who supported Srinivasan’s dream.

Ravi Srinivasan holds an access pass for SWIFF in 2019. (Cathy Dobson photo)

SWIFF quickly grew to include not only a robust selection of feature and short films, but also, a live concert series, virtual reality exhibits, and an Industry Summit featuring free workshops with leading arts professionals. Guest attendees included Emma Donoghue, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of the film ‘Room’ and Canadian filmmaker and Sarnia native Patricia Rozema.

In November 2022, Srinivasan hosted the 8th annual event.

“In 2015 when we started SWIFF, I never thought about whether this would be going in eight or 10 years,” he told The Journal at the time. “I just wanted my hometown to have a window to a different world through film.

“I wanted to bring new voices and diverse stories here and contribute to the arts and culture scene in Sarnia-Lambton.”

On Sunday, TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey released the following statement:

"We are saddened and shocked to learn of the sudden passing of our colleague and friend Ravi Srinivasan. As a programmer, champion for filmmakers, and director of his own hometown film festival in Sarnia, Ontario, Ravi was known to many for his passion, his generosity and the joy he brought to cinema."

He added, "Ravi’s love for film lit up rooms. [His] deep knowledge of cinema and his passion for film as an inclusive art form helped transform film culture in Canada. "For Ravi, who drew on both his Filipino and his Indian immigrant heritage in his work, representation always mattered. It was built into how he viewed films, and how he invited all audiences to engage with the stories on screen that moved them. "I was fortunate enough to work with Ravi for nearly a decade. I always appreciated his sharp perspectives on films, but what I loved most was his sense of humour and his generosity to all." "Ravi Srinivasan embraced life, movies and people, in all their complexity. We will miss him dearly."

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