Censor revisits Handagama’s film

Sri Lankan gov't asks for approval letter back

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan filmmaker Asoka Handagama is crying foul after being asked by the censors to return the certificate of approval they granted him for his latest movie, a sexually charged art film exploring the incestuous relationship between a mother and child.

“Although there is no official ban yet on the film … I have received a letter from the Public Performance Board requesting me to hand back the approval letter they granted me,” he told reporters in Colombo.

Culture minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said last week he would not allow the film, “Aksharaya” (Letter of Fire), to be screened unless several cuts were made.

He complained that a child actor in the film, partly produced with French funding, had to see a woman naked.

“I think a severe injustice had been done against the child actor who appears in the film,” the minister said. “This child, who is less than 12 years old, was exposed to full nudity of a young woman.

“Then he commits two murders in the film. The film begins with the scene with nudity. We will only allow the film to be screened in public if these scenes were taken off.”

But Handagama said banning the movie would be “in total violation of my right to freedom of expression.”

“For the first time in history, a film approved by the PPB is to be banned by the Cultural Affairs Ministry,” the helmer said.

Rights group the Free Media Movement expressed concern over the looming ban on the movie, which was completed last June and which has been screened at two international film festivals — San Sebastian in Spain last October and Tokyo last November.

“Such a ban would be tantamount to state censorship of independent filmmakers and a grave curtailment of Mr. Handagama’s freedom of expression,” the FMM said in a statement.

“The imposition of a higher morality … deprives the public of artistic works of merit, denies people the freedom of choice and strangles the growth of free media and filmmaking in Sri Lanka,” the FMM said.

“Through Handagama’s artistic expression, the film is an unflinching look at the darker issues of humanity, exploring relationships between mother and son, husband and wife, gender and society, morality and sexuality, of those in positions of power and authority and those excluded from it,” the FMM said.

The filmmaker won international recognition for his earlier films “May magay sandai” (This Is My Moon) and “Thani thatuwen piyabanna” (Flying With One Wing).

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