SWIFF’21 Highlights – How to get the best out of one of Australia’s premier film festivals

Kate Howat and David Horsley, Festival Co-Directors.


SWIFF’21, presented again by tailor-made furniture company Ashton Designs, will host a record 120 different sessions to experiences from April 14-29.

Here are the highlights:


SWIFF Expands to CHEC

SWIFF has been growing quickly – nearly 40% every year.

So, for the festival’s sixth outing, SWIFF will expand to the Coffs Harbour Education Campus, in addition to the Jetty Memorial Theatre.

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CHEC will be home to a huge events space, including a beer garden, café, and nine full days of programming at the 350-capacity CHEC Theatre, plus the Closing Night Gala and afterparty.


SWIFF Festival Patron: Jack Thompson

Known as ‘The flagship of the Australian film industry’, Jack Thompson has a film career spanning over 50 years, starring in his first feature film, Wake In Fright, in 1971.

Thompson will chair a Festival Patron team also featuring Sydney Film Prize-winning documentarian Sascha Ettinger-Epstein (Destination Arnold, The Pink House), and rising star Aaron Glenane carving out his own legacy with acclaimed performances in Killing Ground, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan, and Netflix’s Snowpiercer.


Where to start?

With an extensive film program, the best way to experience SWIFF is to throw yourself in the deep end and get out of your comfort zone.

With a line-up so full of unique films, you can throw a dart at the schedule and pick a winner. The good thing is there are so many options you can basically design your own mini festival. The hard part – where to begin?


Award Magnets

The line-up at SWIFF’21 boasts a lot of awards trophy hardware.

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are sweeping Best Acting nominations for the powerful Black Panther civil rights revolution drama Judas & The Black Messiah, with the film also nominated for Best Film and Best Screenplay at the upcoming Oscars.

Chalking up 191 wins of its own and making director Chloe Zhao the first Asian American woman nominated for the Best Director Oscar is roaming charmer Nomadland, starring two-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand. Minari, a beautifully nuanced film about a young Korean family chasing the American Dream in Arkansas, took out Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes, and is being recognised by the Academy for its nuanced performances, touching score and it’s moving screenplay.

Thomas Vinterberg is nominated at the Oscars for Best Director for his new and personal film Another Round, following four curious drunken Danish teachers and starring Mads Mikkelsen. For documentary lovers, don’t miss the recently Oscar nominated The Mole Agent, a heart-warming aged-care caper, or the exceptional Collective, named one of the best films about journalism ever made.


Indie Comedies

While there are many nuanced dramas in the line-up, if you’re just after a laugh you’re in luck too.

Hidden gem indie comedies are a special type, and SWIFF is thrilled to feature the latest from beloved indie-auteur Miranda July with the offbeat scam artist flick Kajillionaire. Feel the punk rock troublemaking spirit in coming-of-age black comedy Dinner In America, and be charmed by taboo-busting heartwarmer Saint Frances. Take a step out of time with the utterly romantic yet absurd Golden Voices, following aging Russian voice over artists, or experience a truth that is stranger than fiction with a dive into a Floridian retirement town where sex, drugs, and rock n roll persevere in offbeat doco Some Kind of Heaven.


International Documentaries

SWIFF is bringing a bumper crop of non-fiction films to the festival – mirroring the volatile year that 2020 was.

Welcome to Chechnya uses deep fake technology to hide the identities of persecuted gay and lesbian people in Chechnya – where activists are running against the clock to help victims escape persecution by the state. In Cockroach, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei lobs a Molotov cocktail at the establishment with street-level view of the Hong Kong riots, and the Romanian doco Collective has been dubbed one of the greatest movies about journalism ever made.

On the lighter side of non-fiction, there’s a selection of heartwarming true stories, including Joaquin Phoenix executive-produced experimental silent film following the life of a pig named Gunda, and the award-sweeping Norweigian The Painter and the Thief about an artist creating a portrait of a charismatic drug addict that stole her artworks from a gallery.

Dog lovers out there will not want to miss the poignant Stray or the environmentally conscious, utterly charming The Truffle Hunters, which follows a reclusive community of Italians and their beloved truffling hounds, in a similar vein to SWIFF’20’s Honeyland.

The list of documentaries this year is diverse and sprawling, so well worth a deep dive through the print program.


Live Festival performances

Connecting cinema and music is a vital part of the recipe that makes up SWIFF.

This April the festival is welcoming Latin guitar legends Slava and Leonard Grigoryan to the stage as they perform the live soundtrack to a screening of heart-warming, family-friendly, magical-realism masterpiece A Boy Called Sailboat live on stage.

Or those who like their tunes of the desert blues variety and their films on the grittier side, SWIFF is bringing in Rhyece O’Neill Band to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Australia’s stunning, awe-inspiring ‘great lost film’.

With an original live soundtrack, experience Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 vivid outback sunburner Wake in Fright like never before.

The Nextwave Youth Film Awards, SWIFF’s most highly attended event, is a family-friendly gala event celebrating young regional filmmakers aged 10-25.With red carpet arrival, live music, the premiere screening of the top 22 films created for the annual Nextwave competition, and the awarding of tens of thousands of dollars in prizes for the next generation of regional filmmakers.

SWIFF Closing Night Gala always ends with a bang. Hosted at CHEC Theatre this year, audiences will watch a screening of the blistering Mogul Mowgli, starring an exceptional Riz Ahmed as a UK MC spitting truth to power – to be followed by an ethnocyberfunk live, world music performance by Coco Varma, Bobby Singh, & Ben Walsh for SWIFF’21’s grand finale.



Audiences at SWIFF will be some of the first in Australia to see brand new films. The festival hosts seven Australian Premieres, six NSW Premieres, and 23 World Premieres of short films.

Australian Premieres include Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut with the family drama Falling, the UNICEF Award-winning Polish holocaust epic The Painted Bird, UK youth drug-smuggling social drama County Lines, hard-hitting Filipino anti-Duterte doco A Thousand Cuts, the eye-opening French gender identity documentary Little Girl, Wildfire tells the story of sisters reconciling in post-conflict Ireland, and The Macaluso Sisters, stunningly told over multiple decades as it follows a family of Italian sisters through good and hard times.

NSW Premieres include Yalda, A Night of Forgiveness, an Iranian capital punishment drama set on a reality TV set, The Surrogate a clear-eyes ethical drama exploring social issues through a fascinating lens.

Follow the fight to break the glass ceiling by a supermodel breaking stereotypes in Maddy The Model, or experience a pressure cooker thriller in The Killing of Two Lovers.


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