Locarno: Sri Lanka’s Sky Entertainers Presents Lineup at Open Doors Lab

Prasanna Jayakody's "Mahamaya," Duminda Sanjeeva's "Whitered Leaf" among titles

Locarno: Sri Lanka’s Sky Entertainers Pushes
Courtesy: Sky Entertainers

LOCARNO, Switzerland — Leading Sri Lanka production outfit Sky Entertainers, headed by Rasitha Jinasena, is presenting a multi-title slate at Locarno which, taken together. suggest how the South Asia production scene is growing not only in production volume and values but approximation to international independent production around much of the world.

Whether Prasanna Jayakody’s “Mahamaya,” Duminda Sanjeeva’s “Withered Leaf” or Jagath Manuwarne’s “Maruga Sanniya,” Sky Entertainers films suggest a vision of contemporary social issues  and the urgent need for change, traits of many art films from Colombia to Copenhagen.

“Withered Leaf,” a drama, turns on Kusumalatha, a woman living in the Sri Lanka countryside who suddenly becomes a widow and a single mother. She struggles to raise her son while battling sexual harassment.

“Mahamaya” centers on a single incident exploring the roots of recent conflict in the country. A first-feature “Sanniya” scrutinizes political pressures on youth. Jinasena also presents a documentary, “Journey to Soul,” by Sumudu Guruge, which plumbs the concept of soul.

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Based out of Colombo and founded in 2005, Sky Entertainers is one of the best-established companies among the few in Sri-Lanka. It makes “films of all genres from commercial to art and experimental,” Jinasena said.

With Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Maldives, Sri Lanka is one of four countries which receives a focus at Locarno’s Open Doors Lab, a co-production, sales and networking forum targeting South Asian film industries, movies and filmmakers over 2016-18.

Riven by more than 25 years of civil war, which ended in 2009 when government forces seized the last Tamil Tiger rebels-controlled area, Sri Lanka’s challenges hardly allow targeted government support of culture in general and arthouse cinema in particular. There is few government incentives, no film schools or promotion bodies to encourage and support the international exposure and careers of local talent abroad. Many Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamil films ape their Indian neighbor.

“One main difficulty lies in finding investors. There are some investors but they stick to their own genres. Most businessmen don’t believe in cinema investment,” Jinasena told Variety.

Many independent cinemas closed over the last decades. Multiplexes are opening but program mainstream cinema.

“Sri Lankan film production mainly carried out by individuals –the director, the producer or investor. If we had more authentic production companies, it would definitely improve the quality of production,” Jinasena concluded.

Sri Lanka took a pavilion at the Cannes Film Market for the first time in in 2016 with its own pavilion, backed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Another milestone was when Vimukthi Jayasundra’s ” The Forsaken Land” took the Cannes Camera d’Or for best first film eleven years earlier.

“Our goal is not only creative, but discovering and introducing new talents to professionals in international or taking more experienced talents a step further onto the international scene,” Open Doors head Sophie Bourdon told Variety.

She added: ”It’s also possibly economic, contributing to the development of stronger, independent film industries, thanks to filmmakers and producers who would have developed stronger international connections and producer skills and also benefited from training activities.”