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Locarno: Sri Lanka’s Sivakumaran Pitches ‘House,’ Preps ‘Shadows’

Sri Lanka first feature filmmaker seeks post-production at Locarno’s Open Doors

Suba Sivakumaran
Courtesy of Suba Sivakumaran

LOCARNO —  Suba Sivakumaran’s has been presenting her debut project “The House of My Fathers,” at the 69th Locarno Open Doors showcase, devoted this year to national cinemas from South Asia region.

A fantasy fable, in “House,” two tiny villages – one Tamil, one Sinhala – have been locked in a feud since time immemorial. Women cannot conceive anymore. But the Tamil and Sinhala people receive a message from the gods offering a glimmer of hope: a man from one village and a woman from the other must enter the forest. Just one will come back alive.

Told as a fable, “House’s” episodes are firmly anchored in diverse events from history. Sivakumaran said. A vision of a post-conflict society in Sri Lanka, the film’s major issue, she wrote for the Open Doors brochure, is “how we deal with memory as a post-conflict society. How to make sure that we truly ‘look’ at not only what has happened, but how it has affected us and changed us.”

A Sri Lankan Tamil writer-director, Sivakumaran directed the short “I Too Have a Name,” which premiered in competition at the 2012 Berlinale. Suba has a degree from the London School of Economics and a Harvard University masters degree –both in politics and public policy.

“House” is produced by Sivakumaran’s Palmyrah Talkies, which is based in the U.K. and Sri Lanka.

“Unfortunately, most Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil films are parodies of our Indian neighbour; which is for the most part [offers] a terrible and dismally uninteresting mix of boring violence, sexual domination and patriarchy and garish visual styles and sound mixes,” Sivakumaran said.

And she added: “There are a few bright spots as always, with a few Sri Lankan filmmakers who are sensitive and brave, and I look up to these filmmakers to take forward our national cinema,” citing Prasanna Vithanage (“With You, Without You”) and Vimukthi Jayasundara (“Dark in the White Light”).

The Sri Lankan cinema suffers censorship; it doesn’t help that the industry infrastructure is weak: “This is a critical issue especially post-war, as support from the state and other institutions is totally lacking, at a time when memory and imagination need to be used to overcome the effects of the war.”

An energetic, rebel spirit, Sivakumaran revealed to Variety she’s developing her next film, which has a working title of “Boxing with Shadows.” It will be set in contemporary London, among its British-Asian youth, and portray rising global racism. It also aims “to explore power and the way power affects the human heart.”

Most Open Doors projects depict demanding stories. However, “the notion of hope and humanity are strongly present, often seen through the eyes of young people in their twenties or so. Projects are often linked to important political change. Memory is a strong common theme as well as migration,” Open Doors curator Sophie Bourdon said.

The Open Doors Hub section is formed by projects from Bangladesh (Ishtiaque Zico’s “Cinema, City and Cats”) and Kamar Ahmad Simon’s “Day After Tomorrow”), Myanmar (Maung Okkar’s “Craving”), Sri Lanka (“The House of My Fathers”), Nepal (Abinash Bikram Shah’s “Season of Dragonflies”), Afghanistan (Aboozar Amini’s “The Cineaste,”) Bhutan (Tashi Gyeltshen’s “The Red Phallus”) and Pakistan (Maheen Zia’s “Then They Would Be Gone”). Out of Open Doors’ total eight projects just one –“House”– is almost finished.

John Hopewell contributed to this article