Cinema as a popular cultural mouthpiece is trying to revive itself in Sri Lanka after 30 years of civil war, courtesy a bunch of progressive filmmakers, new stories – and post-production labs in India.
The filmmakers are also exploring themes from the life of the Buddha in their search for new subjects.
“Normally, we make 20-22 movies a year, including comedies, political and artistic films. Before the civil war, movies were the lifeline of entertainment in the country which had more than 300 theatres. Now the number has shrunk to 150. Several theatres have been destroyed in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo,” Ashley Ratnavibhushana, jury coordinator of the network for the promotion of Asian cinema in Sri Lanka, told IANS.
Ratnavibhushana was here as a delegate at Inner Path, a festival of Buddhist films, performance and culture at Azad Bhavan in the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
The country saw three decades of civil strife, which finally came to an end in 2009 with the decimation of the rebel Tamil Tigers at the hands of the military.
But Ratnavibhushana regretted that the “Sri Lankan government is not helping commercial and independent cinema revive”.
The cinema promoted by the country’s film corporation is mostly propaganda about the civil war and violence shown from the perspective of the government, he said. It is easier for people to relate to the same.
“We don’t have a film archive and several films, including masterpieces, have been destroyed. The country does not have any film school. Only a few new filmmakers have been abroad to study filmmaking. Most of the filmmakers are self-taught,” Ratnavibhushana said.
He said the film fraternity in the country was pooling resources to build an Asian Cinema Resource Centre in Colombo.
For more than 60 years since the country made its first movie in 1947, filmmakers have been visiting Chennai – earlier to make movies and then for post-production work.
“Movie-making by Sri Lankans in Indian studios went on till 1963. But the government banned it because several studios had came up in Sri Lanka by then, improving the situation. But the bulk of the post-production work is still done in India – especially colour correcting and printing. Sri Lanka has one post-production lab, which is not very good,” Ratnavibhushana said.
The current genres of movies reflect caution on the part of directors, says Sri Lankan film director and noted stage producer Hector Kumarasiri, whose debut movie, “Renunciation”, about a Buddhist monk’s dilemma, was screened at the festival.
Kumarasiri said his “imagination and politics” inspired his movie. “The government does not like my brand of progressive Left politics. But I don’t want a revolution. My stories are socialist and have elements of Buddhism in them. We want justice in society,” Kumarasiri told IANS.
“We had a great scriptwriter, Tissa Abeysekera, who died in 2009. Talented new filmmakers with strong political views like Prasanna Vithanage and Ashoka Handagama write their own scripts, but social dramas are rare. One of the reasons why new scriptwriters are not maturing in Sri Lanka is the lack of cinema education,” Kumarasiri said.
Young filmmakers and writers do not have the opportunity to see “good cinema”. “The commercial circuit releases Hollywood-Bollywood cinema,” he said.
The lone platform for showcasing the latest in regional cinema is the annual SAARC Film festival hosted by the Colombo SAARC Culture Centre every year and two screenings of Asian cinema by the centre every month.
Upcoming stage and screen actor Thumindu Dodanthenna, whose movie “Introspection”, featuring the young star as a Buddhist monk-artist, was screened at the Inner Path festival, says “the situation in Sri Lanka like Myanmar is very political despite the fact Sri Lanka has a democratic government”.
“The government is trying to promote nationalism and it is coming into films and theatre,” Dodanthenna told IANS here.
Two of Dodanthenna’s new movies, “Mata” and “August Drizzle” are about the civil war. In “Mata”, a government-backed movie, the actor plays a sniper shooter and in “August Drizzle”, a disabled soldier.