Yesterday I was able to attend a lecture presented by veteran Sri Lankan filmmaker Ashoka Handagama titled “A New Era of Sri Lankan Cinema - More than a Dream”. Handagama, not only a well known and controversial director but also a top figure at Central Bank of Sri Lanka working as Director of Communications. Although as a filmmaker, he’s known to focus on controversial issues and had attracted both praises and criticism from different ends, his lecture seem to distance him self from the rebellious character and focused on a detailed and a structured plan on revitalizing the Sri Lankan Cinema Industry.
Sri Lankan Cinema Industry, which flourished and reached its peak in the late 70s, came crashing down during the 80s and was lagging on its knees during the 90s and even now. The number of cinema halls and even the total cinema admissions have reduced drastically compared to the golden age of the 70s. Miscalculated government policies, television and also the communal and social unrest that prevailed during the early and late 80s crippled the once flourished Sri Lankan Film industry with little hope for a revitalization. Mr.Handagama pointed out some attempts made during the 90s to revitalize the Sri Lankan Film industry, with appointment of a commission to look into the crisis headed by Professor Senaka Bandaranayake. Though the commission report published in 1996 identified several factors that needs to be improved in order to revitalize the industry, these were not properly implemented or practiced. After one and half decades later, Sri Lankan Film industry is at almost non-existent with only a handful of quality films being produced. Local film industry has lost its mass market appeal and few quality halls remaining are invaded withHollywood and Bollywood blockbusters, without much success to the local filmmakers.
An International Film Festival?
Proposal made by Handagama was to revitalize the whole industry by exposing the Sri Lankan Cinema to the International Markets, and vice versa through an extravagant mass scale film festival that would in turn entice enthusiasm about film, promote local productions and also benefit Sri Lankan tourism industry through entertainment tourism. The idea here was to make this film festival, termed “Colombo International Film Festival” which will bring in International films, directors and the film community to Colombo while also promoting selected locally made films during the festival. The event will provide opportunities to promote local productions and networking whilst promoting Sri Lanka as a destination for film locations.
International Film Festivals as a means of promoting and uplifting an industry has worked out well for many countries. Apart from some of the major film festivals such as Berlin, Cannes, Los Angels there are other festivals such as Dubai, Busan, and Tokyo that have made a great impact in the region where it has helped the film industry of the host country immensely. One main example Handagama presented was the success story of the Busan Film Festival, in South Korea. In 1996 when it was first launched the Korean film industry was virtually unknown in the International arena, however, within few years, Korean films reached its golden era where many Korean film directors were able to make a name for themselves globally. It also helped the country to revitalize its industry and helped grow enthusiasm amongst the general public, where by now Korean Film Industry has become one of the top globally. This model has now become a favored strategic implmentation that has been picked up by many other countries as well, some of the examples are film festivals such as Hanoi, Indian.
The practical application of this model is yet to be taken up by relevant parties as this is just a proposed plan and suggestions. In the Sri Lankan context it may not be as easy as the Korean scenario and in terms of sustainability and profitability there may be questions. However, it’s great to see a new bold way of thinking has gone into this, where Mr.Handagama with his experience in the film industry and also as in his role as a banker had devised a fresh plan to uplift the film industry in the country. Of course this is just a first step in a long journey, however if this can be implemented correctly, this might very well be the spark that can reignite the Sri Lankan Film Industry back to its former glory.