Sunday, December 28, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Short Film Culture in Sri Lanka

Cinema as a form of art, basically, falls in to two genres, namely short and feature films. This bifurcation may find closer resemblance with fiction; the short story and the novel. Early history of cinema, mostly, saw the short -length version the film. Gradually, the longer version of the film came to prominence and the short film disappeared. How ever, the short film has remained as an experimental exercise for the budding film-maker. It is very rarely observed that short film created its own culture, in the wake of the popularity of the full-length film.

In the context of Sri-Lankan cinema, which is sixty years of age, this remembrance of the short film could easily be related to its history. Here, the short film has retained its status only as home-work for the film-makers who rose to fame with the feature film. The biggest name of Sinhalese cinema Dr. Lester James Peiris, the realist film-maker, began his career, first, creating a short film titled “Soliloquy”. Another towering figure in country’s cinema, Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja, who made films in both Sinhalese and Tamil languages, and is considered mostly as political film-maker, also created a short film titled “Enemies” as his first cinematic experience. The National Film Corporation of Sri Lanka, which was established in the 1970s, made the first-hand experience of the short-film making a policy for the aspiring feature film makers. Then, it became a norm of that day for the cinema-artist to make a short film prior to debut as a feature film-maker. However, problem was not that one made a short film before his long-length film, but the abandonment of the short-film as cinematic-medium thereafter. Sadly, this tradition of short film-making has not persisted longer, in the Sri Lankan context.

Thus, in the Sri Lankan cinema the short-film has been only employed as an exercise for gaining the practical knowledge of making a full-length film. So, as a distinct form of art, the short film has not been appreciated much and the obsession with the feature film has overshadowed its identity. Therefore, culture of short film has not gained ground so far. The short-film has remained a tendril.

Today, the average Sri Lankan cinemagoer has no any idea of as to how a short-film becomes a different film category, but, at times, the early years of the cinema had given a chance to the audience to see the shape of a short-film. In many cases, the screening of a full length film in cinemas had been preceded by a short film, some decades ago.

Recently, after I presented two of my short films titled “Life Circle” and “Exchange” in Tel-Aviv Student’ Festival (2004), and Short shorts film festival Tokyo (2005), respectively, the dialogue about the short-film in Sri Lanka has resurfaced to a certain extent. I have gained much high spirits with this, as one who loves this genre of cinema. The experience I gained by participating in international festivals as a student film-maker has taught me much about the short film as a form of art with much power. Internationally, the short film receives a significant place, where the cinema has become a culture. I am convinced that the short film is an innate artistic medium, which could potently become medium of artists, who wishes to employ it for his/her expression of reality.

Today, with the easy accessibility of advanced digital technology, this medium of cinema become more powerful. As the film-making procedure does not become much more complicated compared to the feature film-making, the short-film becomes an innovative enterprise, further. In fact, digital technology and the cyberspace could be exploited to its most if one chooses this genre for his/her creative expression. The experiential potential of the short film has grown much and new structures and themes have evolved, today. According to German Short Film Association, more than 2000 short films are created annually and more than three million viewers watch them. There are 90 short film festivals in German and the Federal Government spend more than 1.5 million euro for the promotion of the culture and media-BKM. The current generation of young film makers receives a huge opportunity as the cinemas, TV channels, exhibition locations and museums of modern art regularly invite them for their presentations.

Sri Lanka’s story of the short film differs much from this international scenario, as we have already shown above. I am not afraid to say that the artistic aspect of the short film has mot been explored or perfected much by the Sri Lankan film-makers. The bureaucracy which governs the film industry has not given due recognition for the short-film, probably because they have no idea of it. Not only they, but the TV or other public media also do not provide space for the short film-maker to bring his/her creation to the public. I have created ten short films, but, never could get any opportunity to exhibit a public performance.( However, the Goethe Institute of Colombo screened some of my films before an invited crowd.) This situation is clearly a frustration for a young film maker who tries to make use of this form of art. At present, the National Film Corporation is trying to organize a short film festival, but already they have imposed their regulative measurements for the artists, and then it won’t become a true enterprise for the artists as well as the organizers. The organizers have imprisoned the theme of the festival within the hegemonic religious tradition. As a multi-cultural nation this becomes undemocratic and another case of human rights violation only. Also, the independence of the jury of this festival is doubtful, as it becomes a government sponsored one. How ever, positively, this provides some chance for the film-makers who have no idea of the artistic aspect of the film, but attempt to get a job opportunity in TV channels or advertisement agencies, as experience in film making would be an added advantage for such employments.