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How a Lehigh Valley cinephile is promoting conversation via eerie films like 'Our Father, the Devil'

Brian Myszkowski
Civic Theatre of Allentown Film Manager Drew Swedberg is looking to stimulate conversation through film, and his selection for this weekend, "Our Father, the Devil," is just one example of how to do so.

  • If you're looking for a different kind of Halloween flick this weekend, check out "Our Father, the Devil" at the Civic Theatre of Allentown
  • The unsettling feature-length debut features the story of a woman who confronts a terrible reminder of her devastating past and how she must address it
  • The showing is part of Film Manager Drew Swedberg's mission to screen unique films and cultivate discussion and debate in the Lehigh Valley

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Those looking to bring a little debate into the spooky season for cinema can elevate their eerie experience at the Civic Theatre of Allentown this weekend to catch a showing of a flick that is making waves with critics and audiences across the world.

Showing this weekend, Ellie Foumbi’s feature directorial debut “Our Father, the Devil” builds a world of tension within the tale of a chef whose life is upended when a new priest at the retirement where she works stirs up terrifying memories of her homeland.

It’s a different kind of horror film than many are used to — and it doesn’t even necessarily fit cleanly into that genre — but one that is bound to resonate with modern audiences and spark some deep discussions about morality and the state of the world.

“It is very much oriented around Halloween, and this is a film that will surprise you. It is a film that will unsettle you, but not through the traditional notions of what thriller, suspense or horror is able to do."
Civic Theatre of Allentown Film Manager Drew Swedberg

And that’s exactly how Civic Theatre Film Manager Drew Swedberg would like it to be.

Swedberg said he first ran into Foumbi’s film when a friend sent a screener copy to him. Though he admits to struggling a bit when it comes to horror, “Our Father, the Devil” was a shocking piece of art in more ways than one.

“It was a film that just completely defied my expectations in terms of even thinking about the title, the trailer, all these things that maybe operate in a convention that might look like horror, but upon watching the film, it's a complex and layered story that is really indescribable, if you don't have the opportunity to watch it,” Swedberg said, adding the movie explores notions of gender, trauma, refugee status and so much more in a world of moral ambiguity.

According to Swedberg, he selected the film for screening to carve out a space for art that may not get as much reach as a blockbuster, and which inspires discussion about difficult topics, either particular to the work or in the grand scheme of things.

“So for me, there's a lot of excitement about the opportunity to premiere a film, while also one of the hopes is when audiences come out and see this, whether they're from college campuses or from other sort of spaces in the Lehigh Valley, they’ll recognize that this is a rare opportunity to see this film in a shared cinema space that promotes conversations, shared emotions, all these different things,” Swedberg said.

Not all of those reactions and emotions are necessarily pleasant though they do present a unique opportunity to explore a film that Swedberg said “will stay with you after you leave the theater.”

“I think one of the things that is really powerful in terms of how it's crafted, but also, you know, in many ways, surprising for audiences is how grey the sort of morality that it digs into this,” Swedberg said. “It’s a very complex story that it’s asking you to participate in the sort of empathy you have for these different characters. And I think what I would love audiences to come away with this is this very active sort of participation in the film, that you are forming thoughts and forming ideas, and the filmmaker is guiding you through that. But at the same time, the film does not present itself easily when it comes to sort of moralizing or even understanding the sort of complexity of the story.”

Essentially, the story “walks a line between revenge and forgiveness,” presenting complex, fully fleshed-out characters who are far more real than black-and-white, good-versus-evil tropes that permeate the genre.

Swedberg hopes that this film, and several others — including Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s “King Coal,” a documentary analyzing the past, present and future of the coal industry — will help create an active and vivid dialogue among residents of the Lehigh Valley, even if they aren’t college students or cinephiles.

“Our Father, the Devil” may not be your traditional slasher a la Friday the 13th or Halloween, but it does create a world of uncertainty, dread and terrifying thoughts of how far one would go in certain situations, Swedberg said, making it perfect for a different sort of horror.

It’s also a great opportunity to support a local independent theater and bring new and exciting art into the area, which is always exciting.

Swedberg said he aims to continue spreading the love for independent film and dialogues on difficult topics in the future, so keep an eye out for upcoming releases.

“It is very much oriented around Halloween, and this is a film that will surprise you. It is a film that will unsettle you, but not through the traditional notions of what thriller, suspense or horror is able to do,” Swedberg said.

“Our Father, the Devil”is showing at the Civic Theatre of Allentown from Oct. 27 through 29.