Charting the course of Sri Lankan cinema in the context of the Ethnic War and its Aftermath (1983-2010)

Le cinéma sri lankais en contexte de guerre et de post conflit (1983-2010)

Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin

References

Electronic reference

Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin, « Charting the course of Sri Lankan cinema in the context of the Ethnic War and its Aftermath (1983-2010) », Carnets de recherches de l'océan Indien [Online], 10 | 2024, Online since 01 June 2024, connection on 23 July 2024. URL : https://carnets-oi.univ-reunion.fr/1087

The evolution of the film industry during the three decades of socio-political and economic crises, including the 26 year ethnic war (1983-2000), is at the core of this paper. It highlights the difficulties faced by the Sri Lankan state and cinema professionals as well as their combined efforts to enable the film art and industry of this Indian Ocean island to survive. Sri Lankan film directors have authored high-quality films, inspired by the ethnic conflict, which this study will foreground. Such productions defied the government ban on media and artistic expression. Surprisingly, the Sri Lankan public continues to appreciate the realistic, so-called “art” movie, despite the ubiquity of the great Bollywood entertainer which constantly draws audiences from South Asia.

Cette réflexion s’interroge sur l’évolution de l’industrie cinématographique au Sri Lanka au cours des trois décennies marquées par la guerre civile ethnique (1983-2000) suivie de la crise économique et sanitaire. L’article met en exergue les difficultés auxquelles ont fait face l’État sri lankais ainsi que les professionnels du cinéma, et la manière dont leurs efforts conjugués ont permis à l’art et l’industrie cinématographique de cette île de l’océan Indien de survivre. Le Sri Lanka a même produit des films de grande qualité, inspirés par cette guerre, malgré l'interdiction gouvernementale sur les médias et les expressions artistiques. On découvrira alors avec étonnement quele public srilankais continue de manifester un goût prononcé pour les films réalistes, dit « artistique », malgré l’ubiquité du grand spectacle bollywoodien et qui attire sans cesse le public de l’Asie du Sud.

DOI : 10.61736/CPCH5714

This paper seeks to discuss the evolution of the Sri Lankan film industry during the near three decades marked by what has come to be termed as the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2010)1. As Sri Lanka became a security state, stricken by decades of political instability and economic hardship, it also clipped the wings of the film art and industry already fraught with problems since the late 1970s.

If the early years of the ethnic conflict were unparalleled for their barrenness in the number of war-inspired cinema with only occasional shudders of creativity, (though the production of mainstream, often mediocre films continued at a good pace), a number of worthy films were produced in the late 1990s that explored and exploited with brio the island’s seemingly endless ethnic hostilities. Defying numerous restrictions resulting from the on-going war, but also, more importantly, the government ban on media and artistic expressions, a number of directors threw the gauntlet at the Sri Lankan State and posed a serious challenge to its preoccupation with how the country was perceived abroad using censorship as a tool. Further, born out of the crisis, this war-inspired cinema raised worldwide awareness of the Sri Lankan predicament and drew the island again into the ambit of international festivals.

Mid-way through the war period, which also corresponded to the new millennium, another trend in Sinhala cinema grew. This movement, perhaps related to the ethno-political crisis, consisted in the production of historical dramas that made a lavish display of select chapters of Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial history around which the Sinhala identity and national consciousness had been forged. Replete with all the ingredients proper to the Hollywood peplums of yore, they formed yet another category of films, making a radical departure from the war-inspired narratives, or those dealing with social problems. Notwithstanding the two-pronged movement, other directors remained committed to mainstream cinema, - family dramas, thrillers, entertainers and movies for children.

The war and the economy of the Sri Lankan film industry (1979-2010)

Any discussion on the correlation between cinema and the Sri Lankan ethnic war calls for a brief assessment of the island’s film economy, on which all creativity depends. As the local film industry fell prey to the incessant political and socio-ethnic tensions in the country, buoyant periods were far and few between.

The writing of this particular paper likewise faced a number of hurdles, including difficulty gaining access to libraries, archives and other places of interest for the researcher. The rarity of, - or sometimes refusal to,- provide audio-visual or text material was another obstacle. The question of the conservation and archiving of cinema source material has yet to receive the full attention of authorities. Despite this unfavourable context, scholars, mainly resident in Sri Lanka, have produced remarkable studies on the film art and industry, in particular, its evolution in the recent war-stricken socio-economic and political landscape of Sri Lanka2.

If serious problems did lie ahead for the Sri Lankan film industry, most specialists today consider them as having originated well before the ethnic war, precisely in the late 1970s.

With hindsight, the year 1979 has been identified as a landmark in the evolution of Sri Lankan cinema: it corresponds to both a peak in annual cinema admissions, with a total cinema-going audience of 74.4 million (rising from 30 million in 1972) as well as the start to the industry’s decline3. It was likewise in 1979 that the first Presidential Awards were launched under J.R. Jayawardena, the President of Sri Lanka at the time. Colour television broadcasting made its maiden entry into the island the same year, with the establishment of ITN (Independent Television Network). This was a revolutionary step in South Asia given that, for the first time, a private company was allowed to telecast to the public, a consequence of the liberalization of the economy under the UNP (United National Party). Thus, the slow but discernible downward spiralling of the island’s film industry during the war period (1983-2010) is the result not only of the concomitant development of television and the terrorist threat, but also of the quasi-total failure of State entrepreneurship in cinema4. Cinema attendance decreased, as said earlier, from its peak in 1979 at 74.4 million to a mere 27.8 million patrons in 19895, revealing an outstanding defection of 46.6 million cinema-goers6. Similarly, film exhibition and distribution fell hostage to the vagaries of war. The abandoning of cinema as a source of entertainment over a decade led to the gradual closing down of a large number of the island’s auditoriums. By the end of 2010, when the war ended, another 111 cinemas were shut down, and the annual cinema attendance stood at a dismal, all-time low of 5.5 million.

Whatever the causes of the decline of the film industry, they were compounded by decades of a relentless war between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan State, beginning with the “Black July” riots of 1983. The previous year, in 1982, a fully government-controlled television station, the SLRC (Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation) had been established. In fact, this Japanese-funded, US$ 8.7 million worth television station would prove to be a boon for Sri Lankans, on the eve of what would become a critical and sombre period in the island’s recent history7.

The horrors of the Sri Lankan ethnic war reached a peak between 1987 and 1989 entailing the drastic reduction in the number of screenings (especially the popular evening shows), due to prolonged power cuts, poor technical and hygienic conditions in auditoriums, a shortage of public transport, bomb scares and the dangers posed by acts of terrorism8. By this time, most Sri Lankans had totally forsaken the cinema-going practice, preferring to watch movies on television, in the safety of their homes. Television thus slowly but surely become the convenient alternative for audiences now living in an extremely unsafe environment. The replacement of 35mm cinema with the small screen was further accelerated by new electronic formats such as the video and DVDs, or other innovations such as the first electronically generated colour television drama serial ever to be broadcast in South Asia, the 24-episode Dimuthu Muthu9. Furthermore, since the cinema business was in large measure owned by Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims, they soon became targets of acts of arson or attacks by ethnic Sinhala mobs, and caused the near total collapse of the exhibition sector. In 1996, an investigation into the cinema industry was conducted under President Chandrika Bandaranaike, the fourth of its kind10. The report of the Commission, published in 1997, revealed that during the half century of film production in Sri Lanka, (between 1947 and 1997), the island had produced 843 films, of which only 36 were in the Tamil language. 16 Indian films had been dubbed into Sinhalese, and a few Sinhalese films dubbed into Tamil11. The 1997 report, coming moreover in the wake of 25 years of State management of the film industry, highlighted a lethargic bureaucracy, unable to cope with any degree of efficiency the three main sectors of cinema, production, exhibition and distribution. Despite State-supported loan schemes and sheer goodwill, the deterioration of the political situation from 1983 onwards acted as a serious stumbling block to the development of the film industry in Sri Lanka.

Film production during the war period (1990-2010). Quality, quantity and a glut in distribution

During the first decade of the war, some 23 Sinhala films were released per year, catering to the average entertainment-seeking audience, to which one could add the production, to a lesser degree, of serious works of personal expression which aimed at art more than entertainment. But the production rate of films approved by the Public Performance Board was much higher, standing at 58 films for the year 1993. This caused a severe glut in the distribution queue, and a waiting period of between one and five years for exhibition which continued to grow way into the war years, despite a fall in the number of films produced12. As the war raged on unabated, the debate on “art” and “trash” which had begun in the early 1960s, continued with equal intensity. Film makers like Robin Tampoe, K.A.W Perera, Lenin Moraes and L. S Ramachandran continued to shoot entertainers13. There was concern amongst a part of the community of film professionals that the majority of films, notwithstanding their variable standards, should receive the best channels of distribution, a privileged treatment that the NFC management will justify with the argument that such films attracted large audiences and hence brought in the much-needed funds.

To its credit, the NFC aimed to re-balance the proportion between entertainers and “serious movies” with the offer of a 100% loan scheme to make art movies, or by importing works by known author directors. Filmmaker Tissa Abeyesekara who chaired the National Film Corporation from 1999 to 2001, had understood the need for maintaining commercial entertainers produced in, whose gigantism and cultural and financial power could not be ignored by Sri Lanka. Abeyesekara urged Indian producers to use Sri Lanka as a location for their films. He asserted that, without its South Indian melodramatic base, Sinhala national cinema could never have flourished for the simple reason that the foundations of Sri Lankan culture were undeniably rooted in Indian culture. The filmmaker recognized South Indian contribution to the structuring of the Sinhala films, even if they were mostly the song-and-dance spectacle14. Two years before his untimely death, Abeyesekara published his autobiographical work, Roots, Reflections and Reminiscences (2007) and made the point that it was the commercial movie, that in large measure contributed to sustaining the art film15.

The retrospective negative assessment of the cinema industry by the 1997 Commission stands as an important milestone in the evolution of the cinema industry in Sri Lanka. Numerous recommendations were made to resolve the crisis, including the partial or total withdrawal of the National Film Corporation from distribution. In the wake of the 1997 investigation, private companies including Ceylon Theatres Limited and Ceylon Entertainments Limited pressured the Bandaranaike government to privatize the distribution and importation of films and to abolish the NFC monopoly16.

From the 16th of January 2001, film distribution was allocated to four private sector groups, in pursuance of the Ministry of Finance and Planning directive of 17th June 199917. New circuits were created to ensure film distribution, with a list of cinemas allocated to each of these. Yet, in spite of the drive and energy they had shown when lobbying the government, the new distributors to whom the State conferred the industry in 2001 were barely more efficient. According to press reviews of the time, apart from E.A.P. Cinemas and Ceylon Theatres Limited, most showed a lack of concern or capacity to rehabilitate an industry, highly fragilized by years of economic duress, and failed to provide films that could have courted the audiences back to the cinema, and increased yearly attendance18. Even in 2006, the partial State management of the film industry did not live up to expectations, but seem to have further “sunk into a serious financial crisis”19. Then again, if the privatization of the film industry did not lead to any conclusive results, it was also largely due to what seemed to be now a permanent threat posed to the country by the civil war.

Just two years before the island recovered peace and political stability, in what would be one of his last interviews given to Professor Ian Conrich, published in Asian Cinema, in 2008, director Lester James Peries offered an overall review of the Sri Lankan cinema industry and the "shocking" state of Sri Lankan industry, profoundly affected by the island’s calamitous political situation, with annual film attendance falling to 20 million viewers20. Peries recalled too the ambitions he had nurtured for his country of creating a cinema stamped with a specific identity, a cinema recognized both locally and overseas. Picking up the perennial debate on “art” movies and the commercial entertainer which has been a longstanding subject of discussion in Sri Lankan cinema, Peries declared that, while he had made films tailored to suit local audiences, international recognition was important because it gave “credibility, especially to non-commercial films”21.

Film creativity during the early war period (1983-1991): continuing a trend begun before the war

As concerns film creativity and “credibility”, during the early 1980s, when few were to foresee a full-blown war in the country, the production of Sinhala films pursued its course at a commendable pace, and most of the post-Golden Age directors offered local audiences a diversity of films. They ranged from the pure entertainer to those committed to the exploration of socio-economic and political issues that affected Sri Lankan society.

Questions that were directly or obliquely related to the Sinhala-Tamil divide, or to the militarized confrontation between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan security forces would only enter screenplays well after the student insurrections and socio-political unrest of the 1970s had given way to the 1983 riots, and finally turned into a fully fledged war during the 1990s. Suffice it to note however Gamini Fonseka’s Sarungale/The Kite, released in 1977, one of the earliest examples of a film that attempts to deal with the Sinhala-Tamil antagonism. Fonseka had opened a new thematic space exploring communalism and its impact on the mentalities of Sri Lankans, with the hope that the film would convince people of the dangers of a civil war in an emerging nation. Nevertheless the commercial failure of the film portended the impossibility for the Sri Lankan belligerents to reach an agreement, the political situation in Sri Lanka only getting worse. As a result, Sarungale remains an isolated but telling initiative.

At the onset of the war in 1983, and well after, there still lingered an interest for social themes, as evidenced by the works of directors who had begun their careers in the 1970s. Two films by D.B. Nihalsingha straddle a decade between 1981 and 1991: Ridi Nimnaya (1982) and Ladeniye Simiyon (1986). Nihalsingha’s Keli Mandala, released in 1991, was a tremendous success, with 14 awards to its credit, the highest number ever won by one film.

The film drew the comment from Professor Wimal Dissanayake, one of the first and eminent specialists of Sri Lankan cinema, that it was an attempt to “reconfigure the lives of unfortunate people who have fallen victim to social and political oppression”22. Tissa Abeysekara’s Viragaya/The Way of the Lotus (1988), adapted from Martin Wickramasinghe’s novel, is another milestone of the early war period, as well as Maldeniye Simiyon (1986), which won the Silver Peacock at the 11th New Delhi International Film Festival the following year, awarded to main female lead Anoja Weerasinghe. Other directors who did not demonstrate, at the time of writing this paper, a particular interest for the topic of war and ethnicity are Parakrama Niriella (Siri Medura, 1989), and the more prolific Vijaya Dharma Siri, with several films shot over a period of 15 years, including Suriyakantha (1981), Himagina (1990), Guru Gedara (1993) and later Kshemabhoomi (1996).

As noted by W. Dissanayake and A. Ratnavibhushana, the first decade of the 1980s, corresponding to the early stages of the ethnic conflict, also witnessed the ubiquity of commercial cinema adapted from existing Indian films. Among these popular patronage films are Sunil Soma Peries’ Jaya Apatai (1986) and Raja (1987), Ananda Wickramasinghe’s Dinuma (1986) followed by Malini Fonseka’s Ahinsa (1987). In other films like Yasapalitha Nanayakkara’s Rosie, released in 1985, the tendency was also to draw from existing Hindi films23.

The late 1980s witness the first of timid attempts by directors to tackle the ethnic conflict as illustrated by Vasantha Obeyesekera’s Kadapathaka Chayava/Reflections in a Mirror (1989), relating the story of Nanda, a young girl seduced by her brother-in-law, Danaratne, but who is given in marriage to Piyatilaka, a solider in the Sri Lankan army. In 1991, Shelton Payagala touches on the subject of Sri Lankan ethnicities in Golu Muhude Kunatuwak/Storm over a Silent Sea, set against the backcloth of social injustice and political corruption drawing the comment from Wimal Dissanayaka that “despite technical deficiencies and uneven handling of the medium of cinema”, the attempt was highly commendable24.

The year also coincides with the film débuts of Prasanna Vithanage, with Sisila Gini Ganee, released in 1992, followed by two other award-winning films Anantha Rathriya/Endless Night (1995) and Pawuru Walalu/Walls Within (1999). Both films stay away from war themes, and reflect Vithanage’s preoccupation with questions of memory, guilt and desire, rendered in a precise, visually appealing manner. It would take another two years forr Vithanage to make an outstanding contribution to Sinhala cinema by placing the ethnic war at the heart of his films.

Also significant are the works of US-qualified and trained Boodhee Keerthisena, director of several significant feature films, beginning with his doctoral thesis “The Veils of Maya/Sihina Deshaya” (1996). Shot in Sri Lanka, presented at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, New York, the film received some 30 awards. Keerthisena skillfully introduces the theme of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict through a bomb planted by terrorists on a bus. The explosion takes the life of a member of a drama group and affects the production of their play. Meanwhile, Vasantha Obeyesekara’s 1990s filmography will remain, in large measure, representative of his penchant for social and family dramas: Maruthaya/The Wind (1995), his seventh film, presents the life of a politician and his family, striving to maintain their social standing. Dorakanda Marava / Death at the Doorstep, made in 1998, is a film inspired by a true story about two mysterious deaths. In Theertha Yatra (1999), Obeyesekara explores issues related to unemployment, thus returning incessantly to his ground of predilection.

Women, War and other themes in the Sri Lankan film industry

Sumitra Peries, who made a remarkable director’s début with her Gehenu Lamai (1978) and subsequently Yahalu Yeheli/Girlfriends (1982). Sumitra Peries only occasionally drew from the Sri Lankan conflict for her screenplays during the war years but continued to focus on Sri Lankan women’s issues, portraying them in conflict with the social structure. In 1988, she shot Sagara Jalaya Madi Heduwa Oba Sanda/Letter Written in the Sand (1988), a film adapted from a short story by Simon Navagaththegama. The story revolves around Heen Kella who turns into a brave young widow, refusing to give into self-pity. Almost 8 years would pass before Peries directed two other films, Loku Duwa/Eldest Daughter (1996), based on a novel by Edward Mallawarachchi and Duwata Mawaka Misa /Mother Alone (1997), both of which straddle the war years, but have no particular focus on the conflict. Loku Duwa relates the efforts made by a daughter hailing from the lower rungs of society to climb the social ladder.

The making of Duwata Mawaka Misa, adapted from a novel by G.B. Senanayake, coincided with an interesting milestone in Sri Lanka’s links with the question of cinema and women, if not war : Chandrika Bandaranaike’s appointment of Sumita Peries, the countrry’s premier female film director as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to France in 1996, marking 100 years of cinema in France. As explained by Sumitra Peries, in her inverview with the author, her diplomatic mission in Paris did not prevent her from completing the film25.

The 1990-decade also attests to the entry of other women into the cinema art and industry, a significant feature in a male-dominated environment. Geeta Kumarasinghe, Sriyani Amarasena and Anoja Weerasinghe moved from acting to production or direction, Weerasinghe’s award in New Delhi coming as a source of encouragement. Female lead, Malini Fonseka, had already cranked the camera for Sasara Chetana in 1984, a film adapted from an Indian film, but showing the holy places of Buddhism in India, which naturally appealed to the Sinhala Buddhist majority.

The year 2003 saw two award-winning films directed by Sri Lankan women: Inoka Sathyangani’s Sulang Kirilli/Wind Bird and Sumitra Peries’ Sakman Maluwa. Belonging to a generation younger than Peries, Inoka Sathyangani benefitted from a State Film corporation loan scheme for young filmmakers and revealed her fine talent for film direction in Sulang Kirilli (2003). Both nationally and internationally acclaimed26, Sulang Kirilli did not deal directly with the war, if not for the hero’s connection with the Army as an ex-soldier. Sumitra’s Sakman Maluwa, with dialogues by writer and filmmaker Tissa Abeyesekara, also released in 2003, won the Best Film award. It would take Peries another ten years to turn to the Sri Lankan ethno-political crisis as the main focus of her film.

Directors of the new millennium: daring (at last) to “shoot the war” (1997–2005)

The late 1990s corresponded to a time when the ethnic conflict had become part of the Sri Lankan political, social and economic environment.. Whereas only a handful of Sri Lankan film directors made war and war-related traumas the main thrust of their films, such thematic explorations came both as a boon to a cinema that had become unassertive, as well as a bane to politicians, fatigued by years of intense warfare, ceasefires, truces and failed peace negotiations.

Sri Lanka’s war directors will have contributed in diverse ways, with either a single film with world-wide resonance, or more than half a dozen films of varying quality, drawing both national and international attention. As explained by Neloufer de Mel in her illuminating analysis of cinema in a war context, through their films, a generation of film directors would offer visual representations of the drastic transformation brought about by the war in the daily lives of the Sri Lankan population. Films also focus on alleged corruption within the ranks of government and the army, or develop stories of romantic to violently passionate encounters between soldiers and women, and foreground various forms of psychological and physical trauma inflicted by the militarized environment on people who are shown to be victims at diverse levels27. By revealing the suffering endured by the inhabitants of an island convulsed by war, such directors found themselves confronted with multiple problems, ranging from a fragililized local film industry, incapable of providing them with financial assistance, to an increasingly suspicious Sri Lankan State, preventing any form of personal expression that may dishonour the government and the national security forces.

Still, the surge of creativity, inspired by the war environment, met the standards and expectations of juries on international assessment panels, leading Lester James Peries to note that the period between 2000 and 2010 reflects an extraordinary liberation of cinematographic expression by young Sri Lankan directors who had authored films of exceptional stature and calibre.

The films that lifted the curtain on the new Sinhala war-related cinema are Prasanna Vithanage’s Death on a Full Moon Day (1997), Asoka Handagama’s This is my Moon (2000) and Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Sulanga Enu Pinisa/Forsaken Land (2005). While they received due accolades at festivals around the globe, and drew the attention of film specialists to refreshingly new Sri Lankan film talent, they also came as a major breakthrough at the national level, in a cultural context that still carried the scars of more than a decade of socio-political and economic hardship, with the production of low-budget, unexceptional films.

With little or no subsidies, directors of the war years, found strategies to side-step restrictions such as State censorship and the media ban. They braved other hazards, resolutely locating their films in the highly dangerous political context, with the ethnic issue at the core of their narratives. Shot in and around the battlegrounds located in the Northern and Central parts of the island, several films are near-documentaries with their locations in the war zones and near-authentic situations.

Beginning of war-inspired Sinhala cinema, children as bearers of the message of peace ?

Prasanna Vithanage’s other film, Ira Madiyama / August Sun (2003) also treats the subject of war through multiple narratives that intersect and converge at the end of the film. The war hovers in the background of the film, but whose effects transform the lives of Sri Lankan families of various ethnic origins. Barely three years after Vithanage made his film, Asoka Handagama also picked up the theme of the war in This is My Moon (2000), a film about a Sinhalese soldier deserter from a rural background who returns to the army, as requested by his parents so that his salary can support the family again.

Somaratne Dissanayake approaches the Sri Lankan Sinhala-Tamil antagonism through the prism of children with the message that young people should rise above ethnicities, in the name of humaneness, compassion and sympathy which adults are incapable of. In Saroja, released in 2000, Dissanayake explores ethnic tension amongst adults by framing it against the friendship of two young girls, one Tamil, Saroja, and the other Sinhalese, Varuni. In addition to the Audience Award at France’s Vesoul International Film Festival, Dissanayake’s Saroja won a number of other accolades and nominations in Bangladesh, Houston, Pyongyang and Iran. Dissanayake’s second movie, Punchi Suranganavi/ Little Angel, (2003), is again the story of a young Tamil girl, Sathya, and her friendship with a mentally retarded boy, which ends in the extermination of Sathya’s family in a climate of ethnic hatred induced by the war. While the Sinhala-Tamil conflict does not have centre stage in Boodhee Keerthisena’s "Buongiorno Italia"/ Mille Soya (2004), it does explore the theme of illegal migration resulting from the suffering inflicted by the Sri Lankan civil war. The film features a group of young disillusioned Sri Lankan musicians, victims of the war, nurturing dreams of beginning a new life in Italy. With Yahaluwo released in 2007 Sumitra Peries, too leaves her ground of predilection, women, to consider Sri Lankan ethnicities. Peries even draws from the various cultural communities of Sri Lanka to compose her film team, as evidenced by Vahima Sahabdeen, Sri Lankan Muslim, who wrote the screenplay for Yahaluwo which contains dialogues and songs in Sinhalese and Tamil. In 2008, two other films with themes related to the ethnic crisis were released : Prabhakara, a biographical study of the LTTE28 leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, directed by Thushara Pieris, and Chandran Rutnam’s The Road from Elephant Pass/Alimankada (2008).

Indeed, Chandran Rutnam may be singled out as one of Sri Lanka’s rare, outstanding film directors with acquanted with, and committed to the Hollywood-style blockbuster entertainers, the result of nearly 40 years spent in Los Angeles. Rutnam has, with great talent and entrepreneurship, collaborated with several Hollywood and British directors, including John Boorman, George Lucas,Steven Spielberg, David Lean and Carol Reed. He is known for having enabled the major Hollywood production Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), to be shot in Sri Lanka rather than in Kenya. Rutnam made a significant contribution to war filmography with The Road from Elephant Pass/Alimankada (2008) for which he wrote the screenplay and did the editing29. In 2011, Rutnam’s film became a Finalist Award Winner at the New York International Television and Film Awards.

The latter part of the war period, more precisely the year 2008 also marks the beginning of another movement in Sinhala cinema, with the release of Jackson Anthony's Aba (2008), a film on the Sinhalese King Pandukabhaya, whose reign dates back to some two thousand five hundred years. As the highest grossing, (and at the time, the most expensive film ever to be produced in the Sri Lankan cinema history), drawing international attention as well, the release of Aba was a clear indicator that the ethnic Sinhalese were in quest of a cinema reviving and glorifying their ancient past. Anthony’s film came to fill in a void created by the war, reinforcing collective thought, and providing a cultural and psychological anchor to the Sinhala Buddhist majority. In 2009, Vithanage directed Akasa Kusum (Flowers in the Sky), with Malini Fonseka. The film was invited to international film festivals and won awards after premiering at the Pusan International Film Festival.

International recognition came more easily to a number of remarkable Sri Lankan wartime filmmakers in view of their exposure to either a classic European film culture or to the more spectacular Hollywood model, or both. In 2009, Vithanage directed Akasa Kusum (Flowers in the Sky), with Malini Fonseka. The film was invited to international film festivals and won awards after premiering at the Pusan International Film Festival. Like Vithanage, several Sri Lankan directors had gained professional exposure, and theoretical and practical training in the visual and performing arts in film institutions beyond the shores of Sri Lanka. Some outstanding names are Sanjeewa Pushpakumara, holder of a Masters in Fine Arts from the South Korean Chung-Ang University, Boodhee Keerthisena who studied film in New York in the late 1980s and Somaratne Dissanayake who converted from medicine to cinema while he was in Australia, and holds a PhD in cinema from the University of Performing Arts, Colombo (2010). The other illustrious example of a successful overseas-trained director is Vimukthi Jayasundara, who made his entry into war-inspired cinema in 2003, with a documentary on rehabilitated soldiers. Encouraged by Lester James Peries, Jayasundara made his maiden feature film Sulanga Enu Pinisa / Forsaken Land (2005), and climbed the ladder of success to win the Camera d’Or at Cannes International Film Festival for his film. Thus, a host of Sri Lankan directors, from Lester James Peries to Chandran Rutnam, with diverging, distinctive engagements with the seventh art, emblematize the early acknowledgement and appreciation of Sri Lankan cinema by international film forums.

State Censorship: controversy, celebration and condemnation

Sinhala war-related films were praised by the international community, as they conferred a new dimension to the island’s cinema, and likewise raised the standards of national films. In spite of being appreciated and supported by local directors and mostly intellectuals in the country, these films however were unable to find a wide audience at home due to the government bans on the contents and ideas they conveyed. They were also condemned by the more conservative cinema-going population, on the grounds that they were offensive to a Sinhala Buddhist nation. Indeed, screenplays of war-related films broached subjects like homosexuality, incest, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. As recalled by Lester James Peries, severe censorship was exercised by the Sri Lankan State, in particular on two areas, sex and politics30. Rewarded and recognized outside Sri Lanka, rejected by authorities at home, this new wave distinguished itself by its efforts to avoid official censorship in the name of free artistic expression.

A number of films were affected by the clamp on media and expression including Handagama’s Letter of Fire (2005), Jayasundara’s Forsaken Land (2005) and Vithanage’s Death on a Full Moon Day (1997). Letter of Fire which Lester James Peries, considered a serious work even if it disturbs,was censored by the Sri Lankan authorities because of a scene deemed unacceptable for Sir Lankan audiences: a teenager discovers female nudity by watching his mother undress. Jayasundara’s Forsaken Land (2005) was also removed from Sri Lankan screens a few weeks after its release. Vithanage’s Pura Handa Kaluwara, funded by Japan's national television (NHK) and winner of the Grand Prix at the Amiens Festival, was to become another battle between the State, the courts and groups militating for the freedom of expression. The film was finally released on 21 August 2000 and won the Grand Prix at the Festival of Amiens. Pura Handa Kaluwara made its mark in the history of Sri Lankan cinema, enabling the director to collaborate with Umberto Pasolini, to make Machan (2008). The film, focusing on a group of disillusioned Sri Lankans with a dream of migrating to Germany by forming a fake handball team, was presented at the 65th Venice Film Festival, another screen triumph.

Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s Igilenna Maluwo/Flying Fish (2011), belonging to the post-war Sinhala cinema is a noteworthy example of a film that lays bare the devastated lives of people in the island’s war-stricken areas, showing the utter brutality of both the LTTE and the security forces. Unsurprisingly, as it was released in Sri Lanka in 2013, despite being crowned with glory at numerous international festivals, the film immediately became a subject of controversy, leading to its complete ban at the national level. But Flying Fish did receive the critical plaudits by renowned film critics Between 2011 when it was released and 2013, Pushpakumara’s maiden film venture was exhibited at dozens of festivals that spanned a good part of the planet, with no less than 15 awards and nominations.

Belonging to an older generation of filmmakers, and avowedly a filmmaker of cultural celebration, Lester James Peries nevertheless extolled the talent of this younger generation of directors and their resolute approach to the themes and sub-themes of ethnicity and conflict, defying censorship and bans. Peries likewise condemned official “limitation” on personal filmic creativity, highlighting the importance of having the “freedom to criticize, attack and indict institutions”31.

Sri Lankan cinema in post-war context (after 2010)

In the post-conflict repertoire also figure three Sri Lankan Tamil language, films which have drawn positive critical attention overseas. Asoka Handagama’s Ini Avan, with dialogues in Tamil is the result of cross-cultural initiatives; shot in the Jaffna Peninsula. Handagama picked a fully Sri Lankan Tamil cast, whose brilliant performance attracted the attention of film commentators, all the more so as they are unfamiliar figures in the Sinhala film circles. The film relates the experiences of an ex-LTTE cadre, now “rehabilitated” by the State and who returns to his village in the war-stricken North. The film received positive international reviews, screened at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival. One may recall here Dharmasena Pathiraja’s Ponmani (1978), the other Sri Lankan Tamil film made by an ethnic Sinhalese. Released nearly 35 years ago, the film attracted neither positive critical attention nor audiences, due to what critics considered as the film’s main weakness, an unauthentic representation of the life of the inhabitants of Jaffna because of the director’s inability, as a Sinhalese, to fully appreciate the Tamil mind-set and culture.

Matha (2012) by Boodhee Keerthisena, with dialogues in Tamil, is a romance set in wartime Sri Lanka exploring the struggles of two lovers, both LTTE cadets, living through political and personal crises, – during the penultimate moments of the war in Sri Lanka, struggling to protect the baby that the woman is expecting. In 2013, the film won no less that eight awards in different film festivals for the best cinematography, editing, music, visual effects. Offering another Tamil language and perspective of the ethnic war is Demons in Paradise (2017), an addition to Sri Lanka’s dwindling war-related films. Presented at the Cannes Film Festival this year, the docudrama directed by Jude Ratnam revisits some of the burning questions related to the Sri Lankan ethnic war in post-conflict context32. Shot in situ with a hand-held camera, this representation of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict brings together victims and victors of the war, including ex-LTTE militants, to re-enact personal traumas and tragedies and ideological impasses. Adopting an (auto)-biographical approach, Ratnam revives memories through the testimonies by the very survivors of the war. War victims include the director and his uncle, living in Canada, who appear in the film to relate their experience of the ethnic conflict. Demons in Paradise uses discussions, flashbacks and improvised shots to explore both the past and the present. It foregrounds the complexities of the Tamil struggle for independence, the internal dissension which acted as a brake to the fulfilment of the dream to establish Eelam or a separate Tamil homeland for the Tamils. The film poses in fine the question of Tamil unity as well as unanimity for the creation of Eelam. Was it a common goal shared by the entire community? Whatever the answer, the film is at once a reminder of the futility and madness of war and a plea for inter-ethnic harmony.

Chandran Rutnam has contributed to post-conflict cinema with two movies. A Common Man (2013) starring Ben Kingsley and Ben Cross, is about a man who plants a number of bombs in different areas of Colombo and subsequently asks the release of four prisoners, threatening to detonate the devices if his demands were not met. The film is an Academy Award winner, nominated for the four main awards at the Madrid International Film Festival in 2013. According to Matthew (2017), also directed and produced by Rutnam, brings to the screen a true story that shook Sri Lanka in the late 1970s. With a cast comprising Jacqueline Fernandez and Alston Koch, the film is a thriller biopic narrating alleged double crimes committed by Sri Lankan Anglican priest, Father Matthew Pieris. The film revived a 40-year old scandal that had tainted the image of the Anglican Church in the island.

Described as both an anthology, as well as three distinct films, Thundenek/Her.Him.The Other (2018), were directed by Vithanage, Jayasundara and Handagama, a collaboration to make an omnibus film. Vithanage’s contribution to the trilogy is the true story about an ex pro-LTTE videographer, Kesa, who goes looking for “Her”, a woman whose face he finds on a photograph. Jayasundara’s ‘Him’ is focuses on a Sinhala teacher and Handagama provides ‘The Other’ with the story of a Tamil mother who travels to Colombo looking for her son, an ex-LTTE militant missing in action.

A cinema of Buddhist patriotism: the counterpoise to war films

Straddling the tail end of war period and the start of the “healing process” is a series of historic dramas and biopics in Sinhalese, made in the wake of Anthony Jackson’s 2008 blockbuster, Aba. Coming at a time when the socio-political context was no longer explosive, these period dramas revive myths and legends of Sri Lanka’s pre-colonial history, from those that trace the arrival and spreading of Buddhism in the island to others that foreground the heroic deeds of monarchs of yore. Mahindagamaya (2011), directed by Sanath Abeyesekara is one such film that taps into Sri Lanka’s age-old chronicles. The film narrates the legendary story of Mahinda, the celebrated emissary of Emperor Asoka, who arrives in Sri Lanka with the message of Buddhism. The film was released to coincide with the Sambuddhathva Jayanthiya, the 2600th celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Also drawing from Sri Lanka’s rich repertoire of historical and religious narratives are Saman Weeraman’s Sri Siddharta Gautama (2013), an award-winning international co-production and Sri Dalada Gamaya (2014), directed by Sanath Abeyesekara, presenting the historical narrative of how a relic, sacred to Buddhists all over the world, the Holy Tooth of the Buddha, arrived in Sri Lanka. The trend to make historical biographical epics has likewise continued into recent times as evidenced by Somaratne Dissanayake’s Sri Parakuma (2013) which traces the life of the eponymous Sinhala poet-king, beginning with a runaway prince. Several other films like Maharaka Gemunu (2015) and Aloko Udapadi (2017) are devoted respectively to the Sinhala monarchs, King Dutugemunu and King Valagamba.

Specialists agree that most of these films with their visual lavishness are a fanciful reworking of classic Sinhala stories. The on-screen showcasing of Sinhala-Buddhist culture, at a crucial moment in the island’s history, suggests that the seventh art was being used as an opiate for a war-stricken public, and a way of deflecting attention away from the horrors of a conflict that they had been experiencing for more than a quarter of a century. Observed from a wider angle, this gamut of the 21st century Sinhala films exploring aspects of Sri Lankan history or religion, albeit released during the ethnic war, are an echo of an earlier generation of Sinhala films, produced during the mid-1960s. From 1963 to the symbolic year 1967, which marked 20 years of Sinhala cinema, patriotic directors had also sought to frame the culture of the Sinhalese. Lester James Peries’ Ran Salu (1967) is illustrative of such attempts to foreground Buddhist values and precepts, emblematic too of the triumph of “indigenous Sinhala cinema” to counter-balance the overpowering South Indian melodramas that had captivated Sri Lankan audiences at the time.

Nothwithstanding the persistent focus on the ethnic war, the general trend is for Sri Lankan cinema is to look for newer and greener pastures. This is evidenced by the production of a comparatively high number of films that draw audiences away from the theme of war to embrace family or historical dramas, romances, adventures, thrillers, comedies and stories for children. Vithanage’s Children of the Sun screenplay, set during the Kandyan rebellion, revolves round a romantic relationship between a Kandyan girl and a young man from the rodiya community (the Sri Lankan gipsy tribe). The director approaches the subject of ethnicity and social segregation through a romantic involvement between an aristocrat and a youth from the lowest rungs of Sinhalese society. Of particular interest is also Chandran Rutnam’s film project adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s Toomai of the Elephants33. Rutnam re-iterated his commitment to the feature movie, “Hollywood style”, continuing what has become the hallmark of his productions.

Conclusion

Television has now become the new medium of "national" film production, coinciding to its advantage, with the onset of the ethnic war. If throughout the war period, television ensured that Sri Lankan audiences, in particular the Sinhalese population, were kept entertained, in post-conflict context as well, it continues to occupy a crucial place in the arena of visual entertainment. The production of Sinhala TV serials called telenatya has increased through the years, whose endless episodes appeal to both the urban and rural population. Beyond this, television came as a means of personal artistic expression, and of livelihood. Television and digital technology has replaced the 35mm format cinema with its attractive offer of a quicker, cheaper means of “shooting a film” with digital cameras and computers for post-production. Indoor scenes are shot in private homes. The popularity of the television medium as a source of entertainment, of subsistence and artistic expression can be explained by many reasons, mainly the collapse of both economic and social barriers within the industry

At the level of cinema infrastrucutre, on the strength of nearly 120 years of existence, Sri Lanka’s most elegant and well-equipped auditoriums continue to offer cinema entertainment to the public, adapting to changing habits, lifestyles, audience tastes, and especially new modes exhibition. This is illustrated by two of Sri Lanka’s celebrated cinemas of yore, belonging to Ceylon Theatres Ltd. The Majestic Colombo, which knew its period of glory between 1935 and 1980, now continues to operate from the top floor of a shopping mall Majestic City, located on the main artery of Colombo. Likewise, Sri Lanka’s very first cinema auditorium, the Empire, relocated in the elegant Arcade Independent Square, in the heart of residential Colombo, offers exclusive viewing facilities, in a plush atmosphere, to select audiences.

In the final analysis, despite the horrendous war years, and competition from the small screen, home cinema and digital technology, many factors point to an astonishing survival of the 7th art in this tiny Indian Ocean island. Surprisingly, while the outside world is overwhelmed by the grand song-and-dance spectacle of the Bollywood kind, Sri Lankan audiences continue to evince a taste for films that draw from the Sinhala Buddhist culture, hinged essentially in a rural environment, no double an appreciable legacy bequeathed by the directors of the Golden Age of Sinhala cinema.

1 The island’s most recent ethno-based disturbance between Tamil militants, demanding a separate state in the north of the island, and the opposition

2 I would here like to acknowledge the pioneering research by Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, and more recently the works of Neloufer De

3 1997 Presidential Committee Report, based on NFC Reports, p. 14; 1985 Committee Report, p. 238, (for 1974-1979 statistics).

4 D.B. Nihalsingha, Public Enterprise in Film Development: Success and Failure in Sri Lanka Oxford, Trafford Publishing, 2006, p. 108-116.

5 1985 Presidential Committee Report for statistics from 1979 to 1983; National Film Corporation (for 1985 to 1989 for statistics).

6 State Film Corporation/National Film Corporation Annual Report (1971-2004), in D.B. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 160.

7 Rupavahini was equipped with one of the most powerful transmitters (300-kilowatts) in the South Asian region.

8 1997 Report, p. 19.

9 D. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 108.

10 Three other investigations were carried out during the previous decades, and their findings published in 1965, 1977 and 1985 in the following

11 « Report of the Presidential Committee on the Rehabilitation and Development of the Film Industry in Sri Lanka », Colombo, January 1997.

12 D. B. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 121.

13 Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema, Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Asian Film Centre, 2000, p. 29.

14 For more on Indian contribution to Sri Lankan cinema, see A. Ratnavibhushana, M.L.M. Mansoor, Early Sri Lankan Cinema and its Association with

15 T. Abeyesekara, Roots, Reflections and Reminiscences, Colombo, Sarasavi Publishers, 2007.

16 Idem, p. 166.

17 D.B. Nihalsingha, p. 150.

18 Daily Mirror, LIFE, 6th June 2005.

19 Sunday Observer, 29th January 2006.

20 I. Conrich, « Lester James Peries and the Evolution of Sri Lankan Cinema », interview with Tanya Uluwithia, p. 88, inI. Conrich and N. Gillet (eds.

21 Lester James Peries, interview with Tanya Uluwithia, op. cit., p. 85.

22 Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, op. cit., p. 75.

23 Idem, p. 86-87.

24 Idem, p. 79.

25 V. Tampoe-Hautin, Sumitra Peries, Sri Lankan Filmmaker, poetess of Sinhala Cinema, Aitken Spence, Colombo,2011.

26 Winner of the Best Film Award (Grand Prix) at the Main Competition of the 8th Dhaka International Film Festival in Bangladesh and the Major Opera

27 Neloufer de Mel, Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict. Colombo, Sage Publications, International

28 Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam.

29 The film was adapted from the equally popular eponymous literary work by Nihal de Silva written in 2003, which received Sri Lanka’s prestigious

30 Lester James Peries’ interview for I. Conrich,Asian Cinema, Vol. 19, n°2, p. 85.

31 Interview Lester James Peries, in I. Conrich, op. cit., p. 89.

32 At the time of writing, Demons in Paradise has not been released to general audiences.

33 An informal conversation with Chandran Rutnam at his studios in Talawathugoda, 5th January 2018.

Abeyesekara T., Roots, Reflections and Reminiscences, Colombo, Sarasavi Publishers, 2007.

Conrich I. and Gillet N. (eds.), Asian Cinema, Vol. 19, n°2, Fall/Winter, Philadelphia, Asian Cinema Studies Society, 2008.

Daily Mirror, LIFE, 6th June 2005.

De Mel N., Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict, Colombo, Sage Publications, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2007.

Dissanayake W. and Ratnavibhushana A., Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema, Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Asian Film Centre, 2000.

Nihalsingha D., Public Enterprise in Film Development: Success and Failure in Sri Lanka, Oxford, Trafford Publishing, 2006.

Ratnavibhushana A. and Mansoor M.L.M., Early Sri Lankan Cinema and its Association with South India, Asian Film Centre, NETPAC, Colombo, 2012.

Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Film Industry in Ceylon, Sessional Papers II, 1965, Colombo, Government Publications Bureau, 1965.

Report of the Presidential Committee of Inquiry to Investigate and Report on the State of the Film Industry in Ceylon, National Film Corporation, Colombo, Government Publications Bureau, 1977.

Report of the Presidential Committee of Inquiry into the Film Industry in Sri Lanka, National Film Corporation, Colombo, 1985.

Report of the Presidential Committee on the Rehabilitation and Development of the Film Industry in Sri Lanka, Colombo, January 1997.

The State Film Corporation/National Film Corporation Annual Report (1971-2004), Sunday Observer, 29th January 2006.

Tampoe-Hautin V., Sumitra Peries, Sri Lankan Filmmaker, poetess of Sinhala Cinema, Aitken Spence, Colombo, 2011.

1 The island’s most recent ethno-based disturbance between Tamil militants, demanding a separate state in the north of the island, and the opposition put up by the Sri Lankan State. Between 1983 and 2009, sporadic violence evolved into one of the longest running militarized conflicts in recent memory.

2 I would here like to acknowledge the pioneering research by Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, and more recently the works of Neloufer De Mel and Robert Crusz bearing on war–related films as well as S.L Priantha Fonseka’s PhD on Sri Lankan cinema, which assisted in the writing of parts this paper. I would also like to pay tribute to the late D.B. Nihalsingha, and give recognition to his illuminating research into the economic aspects of Sri Lanka’s film industry. For more in Sri Lankan cinema. For more, see also the works of N.N. Kumara, Sri Lankan Film Chronicle, Colombo, Sarasavi, 2005 ; Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema, Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Asian Film Centre, 2000; Ranee Savarimuththu, Development of the Sinhala Cinema (1947-1967), Colombo, OCIC Publication, 1977; Robert Crusz and Ashley Ratnavibhushana «Calm beneath the Storm» in Being and Becoming : The cinemas of Asia, (eds.) Aruna Vasudev, Latika Padgaongar, Rashmi Doraiswamy, p. 392-417, New Delhi, Macmillan, 2002.

3 1997 Presidential Committee Report, based on NFC Reports, p. 14; 1985 Committee Report, p. 238, (for 1974-1979 statistics).

4 D.B. Nihalsingha, Public Enterprise in Film Development: Success and Failure in Sri Lanka Oxford, Trafford Publishing, 2006, p. 108-116.

5 1985 Presidential Committee Report for statistics from 1979 to 1983; National Film Corporation (for 1985 to 1989 for statistics).

6 State Film Corporation/National Film Corporation Annual Report (1971-2004), in D.B. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 160.

7 Rupavahini was equipped with one of the most powerful transmitters (300-kilowatts) in the South Asian region.

8 1997 Report, p. 19.

9 D. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 108.

10 Three other investigations were carried out during the previous decades, and their findings published in 1965, 1977 and 1985 in the following reports: « Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Film Industry in Ceylon », Sessional Papers II, 1965, Colombo, Government Publications Bureau, 1965. « Report of the Presidential Committee of Inquiry to Investigate and Report on the State of the Film Industry in Ceylon », National Film Corporation, Colombo, Government Publications Bureau, 1977; « Report of the Presidential Committee of Inquiry into the Film Industry in Sri Lanka, National Film Corporation », Colombo, 1985.

11 « Report of the Presidential Committee on the Rehabilitation and Development of the Film Industry in Sri Lanka », Colombo, January 1997.

12 D. B. Nihalsingha, op. cit., p. 121.

13 Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, Profiling Sri Lankan Cinema, Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Asian Film Centre, 2000, p. 29.

14 For more on Indian contribution to Sri Lankan cinema, see A. Ratnavibhushana, M.L.M. Mansoor, Early Sri Lankan Cinema and its Association with South India, Asian Film Centre, NETPAC, Colombo, 2012.

15 T. Abeyesekara, Roots, Reflections and Reminiscences, Colombo, Sarasavi Publishers, 2007.

16 Idem, p. 166.

17 D.B. Nihalsingha, p. 150.

18 Daily Mirror, LIFE, 6th June 2005.

19 Sunday Observer, 29th January 2006.

20 I. Conrich, « Lester James Peries and the Evolution of Sri Lankan Cinema », interview with Tanya Uluwithia, p. 88, in I. Conrich and N. Gillet (eds.), Asian Cinema, Vol. 19, n°2, Fall/Winter, Philadelphia, Asian Cinema Studies Society, 2008, p. 90.

21 Lester James Peries, interview with Tanya Uluwithia, op. cit., p. 85.

22 Wimal Dissanayake and Ashley Ratnavibhushana, op. cit., p. 75.

23 Idem, p. 86-87.

24 Idem, p. 79.

25 V. Tampoe-Hautin, Sumitra Peries, Sri Lankan Filmmaker, poetess of Sinhala Cinema, Aitken Spence, Colombo, 2011.

26 Winner of the Best Film Award (Grand Prix) at the Main Competition of the 8th Dhaka International Film Festival in Bangladesh and the Major Opera Prima Award for the Best New Director at the 21st Cinematica Del Uruguaya in Latin America – 2003 and the Silver Dhow award for the Best Feature Film at the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

27 Neloufer de Mel, Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict. Colombo, Sage Publications, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2007, p. 46-54.

28 Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam.

29 The film was adapted from the equally popular eponymous literary work by Nihal de Silva written in 2003, which received Sri Lanka’s prestigious Graetian Prize for creative writing in English.

30 Lester James Peries’ interview for I. Conrich, Asian Cinema, Vol. 19, n°2, p. 85.

31 Interview Lester James Peries, in I. Conrich, op. cit., p. 89.

32 At the time of writing, Demons in Paradise has not been released to general audiences.

33 An informal conversation with Chandran Rutnam at his studios in Talawathugoda, 5th January 2018.

Vilasnee Tampoe Hautin

Vilasnee Tampoe-Hautin est Professeur des Universités à l’Université de La Réunion. Sa recherche porte sur divers aspects de l’histoire culturelle de l’océan Indien, avec une attention particulière portée sur le cinéma et les identités politiques dans le contexte colonial et postindépendant de l’Inde et du Sri Lanka. Elle a développé d’autres champs de compétences comme les mouvements socio-culturels et politiques du xixe siècle à Ceylan et leur impact sur le cinéma Sinhala naissant. Elle est l’auteur de nombre d’articles et de livres en français et en anglais, dont une étude en deux volumes : Cinéma et Colonialisme: la genèse du cinéma au Sri Lanka (de 1896 à 1928), et Cinéma et Conflits ethniques au Sri Lanka: Vers un cinéma cinghalais « indigène » (de l'indépendance en 1948 à nos jours) et deux biographies de cinéastes sri-lankais Robin Tampoe, Last of the Big Ones (2008) et Sumitra Peries, poetess of Sinhala Cinema (2011). Un autre ouvrage Ethnicity, Politics and Cinema in Sri Lanka: Casting a Celluloid Mould from Sinhala Cinema (2015) complète sa bibliographie. La question de la conservation des films sri-lankais et du patrimoine cinématographique est récemment devenue un élement clé de sa recherche et sera au centre d’un ouvrage à paraître dont le titre sera : Bringing Back a By-gone Empire Seen from Within. Cinema Objects, Spaces and Edifices in the Limelight in Colonial India and Ceylon (1899-1950).

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