Sri Lanka movie directors and film makers
Sri Lankan cinema emerged when the country gained independence. Sinhala filmmaker Wimalaweera Sirisena (1900-1963) was a driving force in this movement. He believed that Sinhala cinema with native actors and technicians should develop and compete the Indian film industry. He made his first film, Amma (Mother) in 1949 and set up a film studio as early as 1951.
But it is Lester James Pieris who is considered as the father or Sri Lankan cinema. His first film Rekhava (Line of Destiny), shot on location in Sri Lanka and released in 1956, was featured at the Cannes film festival. Peries presented two other movies: The Village in the Jungle (1981) and The Changing Village, Part 2 (1982) at Cannes, and joined the jury in 1992. He is still considered to be the most influential and internationally famous Sri Lankan filmmaker to date. Peries focused his movies on rural and urban island life, Sri Lanka’s historical legacy and Buddhist traditions. One of his first movies, Gamperaliya (Change in the Village) released in1963 was based on a book by the Sri Lankan novelist Martin Wickramasinghe. This movie enjoyed a second successful run in 2009 when 50 French cinemas ran it in a restored print.
Sumitra Peries, a lady filmmaker who later served as ambassador to France, made several movies on women and Sri Lankan society. These include Gahanu Lamayi (Girls, 1972), Addara Ganga (Banks of the River, 1980) and Sagara Jalaya (1988). Another famous director, Dharmasena Pathiraja made films before moving to television. His Bambaru Avith (Wasps are Here, 1978) was named 4th best Sri Lankan film of the past 50 years.
Contemporary Sri Lankan filmmakers often talk about the national conflict that raged in the country for over 25 years. Asoka Handagama is one of them. Two of his creative and innovative works were even released in France. “This is My Moon” (2002) deals with the fate of a deserted Sinhalese soldier, while “Flying with One Wing” (2004) narrates the story of a woman who lives and works in the guise of a man. Prasanna Vithanage’s “August Sun”(2003) traces the lives of three ordinary people trapped in the civil wars among the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. He also worked on “Akasa Kusum” (Flowers in the Sky, 2008) based on Sri Lankan cinema itself. His last film, Nathuwa Oba, Oba Ekka (With you, Without You) won the Cyclo d’Or in 2012 at the International Asian Film Festival in Vesoul, France.
Franco-Sri Lankan filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara’s Sulanga Enu Pinisa (The Forsaken Land) won the Camera d’Or for best debut film at Cannes 2005. This film describes the strange atmosphere after a cease-fire, where villagers are torn between remorse and optimism.
Many Hollywood films have also been shot in Sri Lanka, including the David Lean’s Bridge over the River Kwai (1957) and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). Native director Chandra Rutnam assisted on both these productions – during the shooting of Bridge over the River Kwai, he was just 16. Another interesting movie, Machan (2008), shot by Uberto Pasolini shows how a young Sri Lankan joins the national handball team to illegally emigrate to Germany during an international tournament.
Sri Lankan moviegoers follow Bollywood releases from India with equal interest and pirated Bollywood productions pose stiff competition to Sri Lankan cinema.