Thi Be Nguyen and Sean St. John launch Social Impact Film and Art Festival

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During a time when social injustice has never seemed more important, Canada’s first ever Social Impact Film and Art Festival (SIFA Festival & Gala) would like to showcase the film and art that’s speaking to today’s most important issues in society.

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Organizers announced recently that the SIFA Festival Red Carpet Gala and Awards Ceremony will take place in 2021.

The festival will invite filmmakers, producers, artists, photographers, not-for-profit organizations and businesses to submit their projects to be recognized in one of the event’s social impact film and art awards.

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Prizes for category winners will include a social impact award, cash, the announcement of winners in a Canadian national newspaper, the projection of the film or showcase of the project at the SIFA Festival in 2021, an invitation to attend the SIFA Festival Red Carpet Gala and Awards Ceremony in 2021 and the royalties for their film from on-demand views.

Submissions for the SIFA Festival will be accepted until Dec. 31, 2020, with the SIFA Festival Awards and Gala taking place Aug. 6-8, 2021.

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Social concerns have always been part of Thi Be Nguyen’s life; she also believes that through art, we can bring awareness and influence positive change in the world. After coming up with the vision for the festival in 2017, Nguyen enlisted the help of Sean St. John, Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Head of Fixed Income and Co-Head of Risk Management Solutions at National Bank.

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As the co-founder of the SIFA Festival, St. John hopes the festival will give voice to the important work being done around the world to positively change society.  Through the festival, both Nguyen and St. John want to provide filmmakers, art producers, not-for-profit organizations and anyone sensitive to social issues a chance to showcase their projects.

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Below is our recent interview with Thi Be Nguyen and Sean St. John. For more information on the Social Impact Film and Art Festival, visit

You first had the inspiration to create the SIFA Festival in 2017.  What transpired in the past three years in your life that prompted you to start this project?

Thi Be Nguyen: The past three years have been extremely busy in my life. On top of my daily life with my family and work, I produced two documentaries, was involved in at least six charitable organizations and traveled a lot. With the unprecedented pandemic that forced confinement and its repercussions on society, it also helped me “slow down” and reflect on my own life and projects.

During this pandemic, we have seen how social causes impact communities around the world. Don’t get me wrong, social advocacy has always been around, but I think it has been even more elevated during this crisis. I have always been interested in learning about society around the world from its history, to its culture and art, and its social issues and evolution. Through UniAction, a charitable organization I founded to bring awareness to social causes, I wanted to find a way that I could do this globally. Furthermore, I have found a perfect founding partner in Sean St. John, who, right from the start, felt engaged by this initiative. Therefore, I think it was the right time to officially launch the Social Impact Film and Art Festival (SIFA Festival).

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Are there any specific social causes that you hope the SIFA Festival will bring to light, and how do you believe art and film can inspire change? 

Thi Be Nguyen: The SIFA Festival aims to give voice to all social causes. Apart from bringing awareness, what is very important to me is that each social cause we bring to the public can generate positive solutions through peaceful dialogues from the audience. We would like to engage the audience in having their own reflections, and to help bring positive solutions to what they have learned through the film and art that will be exhibited during the SIFA Festival.

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I think there are many ways to inspire change, and through film and art is one of them. Images speak a thousand words. Stories can inspire and motivate. History can teach and influence. Songs can touch the soul and bring emotions. A piece of art or photography can ignite a reaction.

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Film and art are meant to entertain, so already the audience will feel some kind of emotional attachment to what they see. Many documentaries and art productions create awareness and thus influence the audience’s view on social issues. Some might be inspired to make changes.

What type of submissions are you searching for and what are the criteria and guidelines that you will be following for the award process?

Thi Be Nguyen: The SIFA festival submission entry is open until the end of December 2020. There are over a dozen categories that we want to recognize, from feature and short film/documentary, TV series, theatrical, songs, paintings, photography, poetry to books. Basically, we want to see any art that has social issues and social impact at its heart. We invite producers, filmmakers, artists, charitable organizations, businesses, or any individual or group worldwide to submit their impactful projects to the SIFA Festival Awards. There will be a jury committee of experts in different fields that will be evaluating the projects. Up to five nominees will be selected in each category and award winners will receive a recognition award, a symbolic bursary and media coverage.

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We also aim to recognize an individual or group in the creative industry with the World Social Impact Influencer Award.

Sean St. John, as co-founder of the SIFA Festival, what prompted you to work with Thi Be Nguyen and what are your hopes and goals for the event?  

Sean St. John: We have worked on philanthropic projects at National Bank together, specifically Right To Play, and have grown to respect and appreciate each other’s passion to do more, to help others in our own little way. When Thi Be presented the idea to me, and being an avid fan of art myself, specifically of contemporary art and photography and documentaries about people in general and icons who changed the world, it instantly spoke to me. After we got off the phone, I immediately sent her an email saying, “this is an incredible idea, thank you for thinking of me. I want to be involved.” So here we go… get ready.

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My hope is that by doing this festival, we are creating a stage for promoters of change, a stage where they can be heard and given the chance to motivate others to support those causes that speak to them.

The SIFA Festival will give a louder voice to the social advocacy work being done around the world.  What issue or issues do you think specifically need to be addressed and how do you think this festival will help?

Sean St. John:  I am more excited to learn from others. I have my areas of focus that resonate with me personally, like cancer, indigenous accessibility and children’s rights, but what I feel needs to be addressed is not the driver. I want to hear other stories, because it is from hearing those stories that awareness begins, and it is only through awareness that we are driven to help make a change.

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