DISCOVERY. CINEMA OF SRI LANKA



40th Moscow International Film Festival focusing on Sri Lankan Cinema in a very significant period. In 2017 we celebrated 70th Anniversary of the Sri Lankan Cinema. No cinema springs from a social and cultural vacuum. All cinemas bear the imprint of the society, culture, moment of history that gave rise to them. Sri Lankan Cinema is no exception. The urbanization of culture and consciousness, the capitalist infra-structure, the crystallization of the idea of the nation-state, the encounters with cultural modernization and tradition are all vital to the birth of cinema. We generally believed in 1947 January 21st the first Sinhala language film “Kadawunu Poronduwa” (Broken Promise) directed by B.A. W. Jayamanne was screened for public. The more recent researches point to the fact that the first Sinhalese language film was produced in 1925 and it was titled “Rajakeeya Wickramaya” (Royal Adventure) and it was burnt due to some unidentified reason.  It is recorded that just nine years after the Lumiere Brothers had introduced the art of cinematography in Paris, a film was shown in Sri Lanka. 
 
Since 1947 to 1956 only 39 feature films were released.  As the commercial cinema was finding its feet, an incident took place in 1956 which was destined to have a profound impact on the growth of an artistic tradition of cinema in Sri Lanka – that was making of “Rekawa” (Line of Destiny) by Lester James Peries. He had served Government Film Unit as a director for few years and was deeply conversant with international cinema. “Line of Destiny” represented a decisive rejection of the existing genre of filmmaking in Sri Lanka. The next significant landmark in the growth of Sinhalese Cinema is Lester James Peries’ “Gamperaliya” (The Changing Village) made in 1965. It won the Golden Peacock Award at International Film Festival of India in 1965. He has directed several internationally recognized feature films and he is considered one of the top class film makers in Asia. In 2018 April 05th he celebrated his 99th birthday and he has written the story for VAISHNAVEE (The Tree Goddess) included in the Sri Lankan Package. 
 
In 1974 Dharmasena Pathiraja appeared on the Sri Lankan cinematic landscape as a rebel with a cause. He wanted to break out the constrictive formats of Sri Lankan cinema and strike out in new and more fruitful directions. He was deeply perturbed by the haze of ossifying orthodoxy, both of filmmaking and opinion. His first feature film was “Ahas Gauwa” (One League of sky) made in 1974. One can scarcely think of another film produced in Sri Lanka that won as high a critical esteem among the informed and youthful viewers of the country as this film did. In 1977, Pathiraja made his second narrative film, “Eya Den Loku Lamayek” (Coming of Age). It represented Sri Lanka in Moscow International Film Festival in 1975 and Malini Fonseka won a Diploma for the Best Actress for her main role in the film.  In the decade of 1970’s several versatile filmmakers entered to the Sri Lankan film industry such as Vasantha Obeysekara, Dharmasiri Bandaranayke, D.B. Nihalsinghe , H.D. Premaratne and Sumitra Peries. Sumitra Peries is the wife of Lester James Peries and her first feature film “Gehenu Lamayi”  (The Girls) was made in 1978. However, before her debut as a film director in her own right, she had worked closely with Lester James Peries as editor and advisor. The internationally acclaimed film of Lester James Peries “Gamperaliya” gained significantly from Sumitra Peries’ sensitive editing. She is one of the leading feminist filmmakers of Asia and her latest film VAISHNAVEE (The Tree Goddess) is selected for this package. 
 
Prasanna Vithanage entered the Sri Lankan film industry with his debut feature Sisila Gini Ganee (Ice on Fire) in 1992. Since then he has completed eight remarkable feature films. Asoka Handagama directed his first feature film “Chanda Kinnarie” (Moon Lady) in 1998. So far he also directed 08 feature films and latest film is Age Asa Aga (Let Her Cry) which is included in this package and it has won several national awards for the best director, best film and best actress in 2017. Vimukthi  Jayasundara is the other important director who won the Camera d’Or Award in 2005 at Cannes Film Festival for his debut feature film  Sulaga Anu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land). Very recently Prasanna Vithanage, Asoka Handagama and Vimukthi Jayasundara directed three films under one title “ Him, Her, The Other” (2018) for the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).
 
Ashley Ratnavibhushana
Curator, Sri Lankan Package
President, Asian Film Centre / Sri Lanka
Executive Director / 
Jury Coordinator, NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema)