Beyond the theatres





HE had hoped that the film would start off a "dialogue". What emerged instead has been a "monologue" with the Sri Lankan Army doing all the talking. Whether the screening in the "Asian Glimpses" section of the 11th Kolkata Film Festival in November will open up the "discourse" that has eluded Sri Lankan director Sudath Mahaadivulwewa is the question. "Initiating a dialogue, for me, is the most important thing," he says.

For the past three months, ever since "Shades of Ash" (Sudu Kalu Saha Alu) was screened in the theatres of Sri Lanka, "there have been threats".

"The Army is behind this. My film, they say, is pro-terrorist. Why? Because it shows the Army in a bad light. They have even tried to ban the film. Any anti-war film is deemed as pro-LTTE," Mahaadivulwewa said in an interview.

It took Mahaadivulwewa two years to make the "Shades of Ash", a film that "attempts to unearth the tragedy of Sri Lankan society, whose colour and beauty have been stripped off by 23 years of war and brutal violence".

The story revolves around a community of survivors who return to their border village, which they had abandoned after the massacre of their families and destruction of its infrastructure.



One of the largest sets ever constructed in Sri Lanka film history — an entire village — was built on the site of an actual border village in the war zones of the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, says the director. This is also the first Dolby Digital film to be made in Sri Lanka.

"Border village is a description novel to our vocabulary. Sri Lanka had never had a border till the war. And, of course, it now begs the question: whose border is this? The extremists say it is theirs. The Government says it is theirs... My focus is on those caught in between — the innocent, the individual, the family, none of whom know why they are the victims. The film also questions the behaviour of the Army. I, as a civilian, have a right to ask the question. As I have to take the discourse beyond the confines of the theatre," he adds.

It is films like these that the organisers "keep looking for — those expected to get the audience to think and take back home with them," says Ansu Sur, Director, Kolkata Film Festival.

"For the past 10 years, we have been organising the festival. This time around, most of the films selected are those we consider cerebral, thinking films, portrayals of social reality, as opposed to those with merely entertainment value. The Festival is considered to be a forum of learning rather than just an entertainment show."

In all, 138 films from 47 countries were selected for the Festival, the only official non-competitive annual international film festival in the country. It started with the screening of "The Chorus" (France, Switzerland, Germany: 2004) directed by Christophe Barratier — about a music teacher employed as a proctor in a correctional boarding school for minors in France of 1948. He sets out to change the students' lives by acquainting them with the magic and power of music.

Why the "Focus on Africa"? "We selected films from once colonised countries that won their independence over the past 30 years. The idea was to show films sympathetic to African interests, portraying the social realities and rituals, family ties and bonding in countries like Senegal, Congo and Cameroon, the last mentioned having some very good directors though, sadly, it is better known to most of us because of its football," Sur explained.

The well-known Senegalese novelist, Sembene Ousmane, is widely believed to be behind the emergence of a credible cinema industry in Africa in the early 1960s. But "Senegal today does not have much of a cinema industry with just about one film being produced every two years", says Mansour Sora Wade, whose "The Price of Forgiveness" (2001) was featured. "The inspiration to make films comes from the oral tradition, so strong in the history of our culture".

Had it not been for funds borrowed from overseas, Wade's film might have had to wait. "In our country there is no money to produce films. We have to look for financers in Europe. Funds for my film came from the European Union and the French Foreign Ministry. This year just one film is being made by a Senegalese director," Wade says.

"It was not so in the 1970s when the country was one of the biggest film production centres in the entire West Africa. Cinema was most popular then. Then there were 26 theatres in Dakar. Now we have just two. The theatres have been converted into commercial buildings," says Wade regretfully.

He is searching for new metaphors for his next film whose canvas will be the African socio-political reality, "scarred by massacres like the one in Rwanda, the crisis in Dafur".