සුළඟ අප ර ගෙන යාවි   (The Wind Beneath Us) Nuwan Jayatillake’s debut cinematic direction swept international feature film industry off its feet, clinching the Remi Award at the 49th WorldFest Houston International Film Festival 2016. The Remi Award was previously won by big names in the film industry such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Some 4500 film creations by 38 countries had taken part in this prestigious festival. Nation spoke to its UK based Director Nuwan Jayatillake about his debut film venture.

The film has been making the festival rounds for nearly two years. It was recently Screened at the London Asian Film Festival and the Cine Kid International Film Festival in the Netherlands, with the creator still jealously guarding his film against ‘too much publicity’. Nuwan admits that he purposely withheld the trailer to arouse curiosity in film lovers.

“There was no big money involved,” admits Nuwan. “It all started with just Rs 1,000. We didn’t have a huge budget for advertising and distribution. So to breathe life to the movie, we had to arouse curiosity.” However, Nuwan assures the curious film lovers can soon get their hands on a trailer the team is currently developing for small scale UK distribution.

Set in the Knuckles mountain range village of Meemure with few amenities, the film opens with the scene of a travelling caravan in the wee hours of the morning. Vihanga and Kasun, latter being the younger of two brothers, live in this rural district amidst rivers, forests and misty mountains. Their family’s economy is entirely dependent upon a white bull named ‘Sudda’, used to transport goods. But Sudda is stolen by two cattle thieves from the city and the film traces Kasun’s steps in his journey to the city in search of his
beloved Sudda.

Although inadvertently categorized as a children’s movie in Sri Lanka, The Wind Beneath Us is a family film in essence. “Its subject matter is the child, but discusses adult themes.” In fact, the film runs the gamut of themes ranging from spirituality and religion to deprivation of parental love and comparison of the village and the city. The drastic switch from the picturesque Knuckles village to the garbage strewn, bustling city, that is Colombo, can be startling.

The maker
Nuwan’s brief stint in theatre as well as years in journalism and advertising helped him to become the versatile filmmaker he is. “As a rookie I was enthralled by acting,” said Nuwan. “But I could also write by the age of eight.” He has worked in the capacity of a Stage Manager during his theatre years. But admitted that there are not many opportunities in the Sri Lanka system.

So he took to self-study. He was heavily influenced by the works of greats like Bertolt Brecht and Ionesco, whom he studied in the libraries of Birtish Council, Goethe and American Center.

“Everything in the field is technical,” said Nuwan. “You stay in the industry long enough and the technicalities catch up to you.” Nuwan explained that such exposure through theatre and journalism, coupled with his enthusiasm for self-study made him capable of directing veteran artistes such as Iranganie Serasinghe. Working with veterans never unnerved Nuwan because his exposure through advertising afforded him self esteem. Plus he had already worked as an Assistant Director, Production Manager and Line Producer under Director Vimukthi

If theatre was the foundation of Nuwan’s career, advertising was the pillars. Nuwan says he shuns third rate (Sillara) advertising and rather prefers to engage in creative advertising. “Creative advertising is all about telling 15-second stories,” says Nuwan.
But it was the five years in journalism that finally germinated in him a yearning to enter the world of film. “I worked for the former Mawbima editorial at a time when the government was trying to suppress it.” A short fulltime course offered by the Pune Film School changed his perspective of film.

“The course specifically targeted journalist and focused on all aspects of film production from script writing and directing to post production.” Nuwan claims that the course taught him to truly appreciate film.

As a feature writer he preferred to travel out of Colombo. Often equipped with a camera, he clicked photos of IDPs in camps. It was agency journalists the likes of Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi who drew Nuwan’s attention to the story behind the photos he took. He realized that the photos themselves tell a story with the help of only a one lined caption. Ultimately it was his theatre
experience coupled with photojournalism and advertising that made Nuwan the filmmaker he is today.

Being an independent film The Wind Beneath Us was made on a limited budget. But it also offered Nuwan the option of being his own boss. “We were under no authority and there was ample space for experiment. On the contrary a film maker making a film under the banner of a studio would have to answer to either the studio or the producer, partly because they know best about how the market operates.” Nuwan explained that in such cases music and script often have to be outsourced. “But the independent filmmaker has total control over all production and post production aspects of the film.”

The Wind Beneath Us is unique in that the whole film was shot in just 16 days. With a crew of almost 100, lodging in Knuckles would have broken Nuwan’s bank; which is why he employed guerilla strategies in the making of the film. Visiting them at their homes, Nuwan coached his cast long before they started shooting. Using Sri Lanka’s unique geography the team virtually eliminated the lighting budget, making the best of daylight whenever possible. “At nigh we used limited lighting.”

Nuwan’s guerilla strategies came in handy when the team hit a rough patch, with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) refusing to grant permission to shoot in high security zone locations in Colombo back in 2013. “I spent four years just writing this film and I wasn’t ready to let the MOD or police meddle with my script,” said Nuwan, incredulous. “What education do they have on the field of arts and what right do they have to change the content in a work of art?” queries Nuwan.

So, the film team changed the script according to the fancy of the MOD, but stuck to the original script for the shooting. In fact, they started shooting long before permission was granted under the pretext that they already had the permit.

The Wind Beneath Us is also unique for recording sound simultaneously while shooting. “Sri Lanka does not have a studio equipped to dub sound into the film post production. And therefore dubbing comes off as artificial.” And to maintain this authenticity Nuwan and his team recorded sound on six lines. “From artistes’ voices and background chatter to the sound of the breeze everything was recorded while shooting.” Any film is 40 percent visuals and 60 percent sound, says Nuwan. “Sound can change how a moving image is interpreted.”

What’s more the film casts two real life brothers Sudam Katukithule (Kasun) and Praveen Katukithule (Vihanga). Their on-screen chemistry adding to the authenticity of the film.

Produced by Maya Nawagaththegama, daughter of Simon
Nawagaththegama, the music for The Wind Beneath Us is by Chitral Chity Somapala, son of veteran musician PLA Somapala while cinematography is by Striner Macklain Adams. The film stars Iranganie Serasinghe, Suranga Ranawaka, Priyankara Rathnayake, Sudam Katukithule, Semini Hennanayake and Praveen Katukithule. All in all, The Wind Beneath Us promises to sweep you off your feet.