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National Short Film Awarding Ceremony was held at Postal Head Quarters Auditorium on August 21. The National Short Film Competition 2016 was organized by Rural Economic and Community Development Organization in partnership with the Sri Lanka Foundation, National Film Corporation and Sri Lanka Development Journalists Forum under the theme ‘Respect Diversity for United Identity’.

The purpose of this competition was to encourage young short film directors to capture the reality of post-conflict development and to bring their perspectives on issues affecting reconciliation. The competition also recognized Sri Lankan Youth Policy 2014, and UNSCR 2250 that promotes youth inclusion in peace-building.

Prior to the short film competition, a training workshop was organized for 30 young short
filmmakers from Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim backgrounds. The purpose of the training was to provide skills and knowledge for young short filmmakers on producing short films addressing root causes of violence, grievances of people affected by the conflict and promoting reconciliation. Youth were also given extensive training on understanding, respecting and celebrating diversity as well.

The training was conducted by well-known professionals in the film industry and academics including Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena, a trainer in peace-building, Mr. Vimukthi Jayasundera, a well-known film director, screenwriter and visual artist; cinematographer, MD Mahindapala, film director, Upali Gamlath and Lanka Foundation, Digital Film Academy Section, Senior Lecturer, Dhanushka Gunathilake. This training was funded under the Youth Empowerment Grant Programme of the US Embassy Sri Lanka. Nearly 30 short films were submitted by youth including participants of the training as well as other short filmmakers across the country.

The winners of the National Short Film Competition were awarded by Dr. Sumithra Peiris, Dr. Dharmasena Pathiraja, Dr. Somarathna Dissanayake and Sudath Mahadivulwewa. The first place of the National Short Film Competition was awarded to S. Vimalraj for his remarkable short film ‘Vilimoody’. The award for the second place was given to Eranda Sri Amil Mahagamage for his short film ‘Once upon a time with Cowboys’ while S. Sivaraj won the third place for his short film ‘Battleground’.

These films captured many issues during the postwar period of Sri Lanka. Especially, problems with regard to resettlement, clearance of mines, missing persons as well as arms and ammunition were clearly depicted in these movies.

According to the recommendation made by the panel of judges, apart from the three national awards, three jury awards were also presented. Hence, the young short filmmakers, Dhananjaya Bandara (Coffee), J L Jeroshan (Missing) and S. Vimalraj (Flood) received jury awards for their films.

“I appreciate the fact that this whole programme took the initiative to recognize and award some young artists who are not directly involved in the film industry of Sri Lanka. In selecting the short films, we carefully looked at how a short film has been used as a communicative tool. A short film is an independent art. It is not shortening of a long film. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, people who are engaged in making short films are very few,” noted tele-drama and filmmaker, Sudath Mahadivulwewa representing the jury of the National Short Film Competition.

The certificates for the participants of the National Short Film Competition were awarded by eminent film and tele-drama producer and the journalist Renuka Balasooriya

National Winners S. Vimalraj – Vilimoody (1st Place)
The short film ‘Vilimoody’ directed by S. Vimalraj depicts the immediate situation in the post-war context that involves the demining process. Within this context the director tries to show the negative impacts that were caused due to the ignorance of people. The film is about a man who goes into the woods to find timber ignoring a danger sign alerting of mines while his son tries to stay away from the danger areas understanding the danger. This shows the attitudinal gap between two generations. However, due to the ignorance of the father, the son dies.

Therefore, the film shows creating awareness of the environment around people is very important in any post-war context. Vimalraj mentioned that there are still places in the North where there are landmine risks. Many people have lost their lives because of going into areas that were cleared by armed forces. This indicates that these areas have not been properly cleared. He noted that armed forces have abandoned some areas thinking that they are not used by people. But there have been many incidents in which people have been killed going into these abandoned areas. Therefore, the short film ‘Vilimoody’ is based on true events that take place in the post-war context.

Eranda Sri Amil Mahagamage – Once upon time with cowboys (2nd Place)
The short film Once upon a time with cowboys directed by Eranda Sri Amil Mahagamage is a story about the idea of militarization during the post-war context. A culture of arms was created during the war and the film shows how it continues even after the end of war. The story shows how arms have a bad impact on children. Giving a toy weapon to a child can lead to engaging him or her in a war. There is a scene where a group of children holding toy guns shoot at a man who is selling toys and the audience hears the real noise of a gunfire and the man collapses. He cannot be killed with toy guns but it shows the fact that war has internalized in the lives of people and even though the war is over, that mentality is difficult to remove. This is a clear-cut indication that a culture of arms is deeply rooted in the society.

S. Sivaraj – Battelground (3rd Place)
The short film Battleground by S. Sivaraj is about land issues and resettlement in the post-war context. As a result of war, many people had to leave their properties and flee from the chaos of war. The problem was when they returned most of their lands were occupied or taken by the armed forces. Therefore, many families lost their ancestral lands. Even though the film is set on a small piece of land used as a ground by children to play cricket, the story shows how the loss of lands including the cricket ground has affected the people. Loss of lands has resulted in loss of hopes in people. Battleground is a clear indicator of the existing situation, when people’s lives become unstable and their social life becomes more and more miserable even after the war. Therefore, Sivaraj’s main intention of making the movie has been to show the lack of a proper mechanism for the resettlement process.

Jury award winners
Dhananjaya Bandara – Coffee
The short film Coffee by Dhananjaya Bandara brings out the love of a mother towards her son. Dhananjaya has made this film from his own thoughts upon seeing a photo published on the book titled Kandulu Salana Paradeesaya by Victor Ivon. The picture has portrayed a woman working in a coffee plantation in 18th Century Sri Lanka, under British rule. Dhanajaya noted that he was also influenced strongly by the poem ‘Walas Dadayama’ written by well-known poet Wimalarathne Kumaragama which talks about a mother bear who carries the cub even after being shot. Therefore, the short film ‘Coffee’ depicts a mother carrying a child while plucking coffee seeds. Throughout the movie it shows the power of a mother’s love and care for the child. The child immediately reacts when the mother gets injured and the love and compassion of each other was portrayed well in the movie.

J L Jeroshan – Missing
The short film Missing by JL Jeroshan highlights a very crucial issue of the post-war context, the problem of missing persons. The film shows that it is still an ongoing issue in the country and how the lack of attention or a proper mechanism to address the concerns of families of missing people has become a major problem. The movie shows that many people disappeared during the war and when the war came to an end, families of missing persons urged the government and police to find their lost loved ones. However, the movie ends with the scene where the mother and child keeps on looking for their missing family members indicating that a resolution has not yet been reached.

S. Vimalraj – Flood
S. Vimalraj’s short film Flood brings out a very sensitive story about human relationships. The film captures a real flood situation where a boy finds a cat caught in the flood. However, he has no way to keep the cat in his house due to his parents’ lack of interest. The cat leaves the house after he is thrown away by the adults. While searching for the cat, the little boy finds his grandmother in the backyard of the house also abandoned by the family. Vimalraj’s intention was to show the plight of an abandoned parent in the Sri Lankan context. This movie has been inspired by a true incident witnessed by Vimalraj.

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