Sri Lanka

China blocks Shanghai

Apparently paranoid about their image being tarnished by foreign films, Chinese authorities have blocked (via) the shooting of Mikael Håfströms Shanghai. Sources close to the film say that seven other co-productions may have been blocked, but that has not been confirmed.

We wouldnt have spent millions of kronor (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in this country over the past six months if we hadnt been completely sure we would receive a permit, Hafstrom said. This obviously comes as a shock to all of us. We dont know exactly why we have been turned down.

While The Weinstein Company is hoping for a reversal of the decision, Håfström has said that shooting is now headed for Hong Kong. The film is likely to use the new Shaw Studios for studio work and locations in Hong Kong and Macau for other exteriors.

Sex and Security

According to Counter Currents (via), Satyajit Maitipe has been ordered by the Sri Lanka Censorship Board to remove the sexual scenes from his film, Bora Diya Pokuna (Scent of the Lotus Pond) - even if he expects to get an Adults Only certificate.

The Sri Lankan Public Performance Board operates under the Ministry of Defence. Their brief is to keep an eye on anything they considered might damage Culture or interfere with National Security. It strikes me as ironically amusing that this authority thinks it can protect national culture and security by banning several sex scenes from a film. Whose culture are they trying to protect? Who’s security?

Disgraceful TV

Asian Tribune reports that Sri Lankas state-funded television channel, the Sri Lanka Ruphavanini Corporation (SLRC) recently cut dialogue from the weekly drama Sudu Kapuru Pethi (White Camphor) and then went on to axe the series altogether.

The then SLRC chairman Newton Gunaratne told the media the television show had insulted the security forces. Some parts of this teledrama bring disgrace to these soldiers and their self-respect, he claimed. Gunaratne, however, made no attempt to substantiate his claims.

The series, directed by Athula Pieris, is a love story involving a Sinhalese girl from Sri Lanka’s south and a Tamil boy from the north. Based on Thushari Abesekera’s award-winning novel of the same name, the drama is set during the island’s protracted civil war prior to the 2002 ceasefire and was commissioned following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami as part of the SLRC’s attempts to present a new vision of peace.

While Sudu Kapuru Pethi is not an explicit antiwar drama, it is a humane work. Its central love story between Tamil and Sinhalese youth is anathema to the Sinhala communalists, who dominate the Sri Lankan state, including the army. Its censorship follows a pattern of increasingly serious attacks on artists, filmmakers and journalists who reject Sinhala racism or dare to raise questions about the government’s war drive.

SLRC management didnt bother to tell the director that theyd cut dialogue from the show - he found out about it when the programme was transmitted on September 3rd. When he complained the management suggested that he re-edit the entire program. He refused and the show, which had another 13 episodes to run, was summarily cancelled.

The cancellation of Sudu Kapuru Pethi foreshadows further assaults on democratic rights. As it widens its deeply unpopular war, the Rajapakse government is determined to silence any opposition. In this case, the suggestion that ordinary Tamils and Sinhalese share common problems and concerns was enough to provoke the ire of those who are deliberately stoking communal hatreds.

The Nutter Code

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ordered a ban on the screening of The Da Vinci Code in response to an appeal made by Catholic bishops in the country.

On 23rd May, the Catholic Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka sent a letter to the president calling for the ban on the basis that the book has caused confusion between fact and fiction. Two days later, the state-owned Daily News, quoted Rajapaksa, who is also minister for religious affairs, as saying that he had ordered the Public Performances Board to ban the screening of the movie in local cinemas and on local TV channels.

In Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (who between them can probably take offence at anything - including each other), has called the film blasphemous and satanic and demanded that the government immediately ban it.

And the film has been banned in the Solomon Islands, even though the South Pacific nation has no cinemas.

Letter of Fire under government fire

Sri Lankas Free Media Movement (FMM) has expressed serious concern bout the possible ban of Ashoka Handagamas film Aksharaya (Letter of Fire) by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, even though the film has been approved by the Public Performances Board.

Independent of the possibility of the ban itself, we are equally concerned that media personnel in Sri Lanka continue to suffer from an inability to freely express their views. Art in general, and film in particular, serve to scrutinize social behaviour and norms. The imposition of a higher morality, in the form of arguments and actions that prevent any media from stimulating public debate on social norms, such as the ban contemplated by the Ministry of Culture, forces media personnel to censor their own work, deprives the public of artistic works of merit, denies people the freedom of choice, and strangles the growth of free media and filmmaking.

Mr. Handagamas film explores serious topics in a manner that pushes the boundaries of social critique and filmmaking. The film offers 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 them.

The film explores an incestuous relationship and abuse. It 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. Culture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana said he would not allow the film to be screened unless several cuts were made.