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Busan: Prasanna Vithanage Sri Lankan Auteur Shines With ‘Children of the Sun’

Sri Lankan independent filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage has the world premiere of his “Children of the Sun” (“Gaadi”) at the Busan International Film Festival. The film is set in 1814 Kandy, Ceylon, as the country was then known, against the backdrop of Sinhala nobles’ rebellion against their South Indian ruler, and the advent of British colonialism. It follows the struggle of an outcast noblewoman who fights to maintain her identity.

“The movie questions identity in a world where people are polarized on various lines, in a time when identity politics has come to the foreground,” Vithanage told Variety. “And I thought the period setting was a reflection of the times we live in.”

Sri Lanka’s Film Island is the project’s primary producer, along with investor H.D. Premasiri and Prasanna Vithanage Productions. India’s Jar Pictures is also a co-producer. The budget is lavish by Sri Lankan standards at $560,000.

The film boasts top technical talent from India, including cinematographer Rajeev Ravi (“Gangs of Wasseypur”,) sound designer Tapas Nayak (“Maadathy, an Unfairy Tale”, also premiering at Busan), and editor Sreekar Prasad (“Flowers of the Sky”) with whom Vithanage has worked on seven projects.

Vithanage is the doyen of Sri Lankan independent cinema. His films that include “Death on a Full Moon Day,” “August Sun,” “Flowers of the Sky,” and “With You, Without You” have been feted the world over, and he is a nurturing influence on a generation of aspiring Sri Lankan filmmakers.

“Children of the Sun” will have an extended festival run after Busan. A Sri Lanka commercial release is planned for January 2020.

As elsewhere in the world, distribution for independent cinema in Sri Lanka remains difficult. “New digital equipment and easy access to software have made the filmmaking process less cumbersome and in most cases more democratic,” says Vithanage. “But this only applies to the production of the film. When it comes to distribution, young filmmakers have to compete with commercial content from Hollywood and Bollywood.

“Due to this, the screen time for local films is diminishing. Even for local films, distributors are looking for films that can garner a wide release that is family-friendly.  So filmmakers who are experimenting with content find it hard to get distribution, as their films end in a neverending queue, waiting for release. So, the more interesting films tend to be sandwiched between blockbusters or are relegated to a limited release.”

Vithanage is already in pre-production on his next project, provisionally titled “Songbird.” “It is about an unconventional parent who struggles against an educational system he feels stifles creativity,” says Vithanage.

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