Picturing Reconciliation: An International Film Festival (Colombo)

The International Film Festival Picturing Reconciliation organized by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) took place from the 24th to 26thJanuary at the Punchi Theatre, Borella.

It featured twelve local and international documentaries. The festival featured discussions on films by eminent personalities.  Mr Gamini Viyangoda, Vidharshana Kannangara and Chulananda Samaranayake headed an interesting and lively conversation about the relevance of the films given the current context of the country.

The discussion generated different views on matters dealing with post war situations.  While some spoke of putting the past behind us and moving forward, others expressed the need to learn from bitter memories and find solutions to solve the root cause of certain fundamental problems.

Learning from the films, people attempted to relate it to the current context of the country. The film Enemies of the People showcased the leadership of Polpot and his regime. As noted by a participant in the discussion; Polpot’s glorification of history and legitimization of  violence, is reflected in the Sri Lankan context where some believe a return to a glorious past is the solution to problems the nation faces.

The movie The Redemption of General Butt Naked is a story of a mass killer redeeming himself by asking individually for forgiveness. The audience,  on discussing this film, questioned the individual approach of seeking forgiveness and stressed the need for action and reaction as a community.

Language policy, the change in the medium of the national anthem and devolution of power were also among the main features of the discussions.

Making a point about the poor attendance for the film festival, a discussant noted that the small audience reflected the lack of desire to achieve reconciliation among the people from the South. This could be due to the current ideology in the country which  fails to emphasise the need for a  reconciled society.

This ideology demonstrated by another member of the audience when she made a remark about the situation of the country.  She noted that we need not talk about the consequences of the war. She expressed the opinion that people should forget such things and must concentrate on what can be done in relation to economic grievances.

Many discussants disagreed with this idea which looked at the problem in a simplistic one dimensional manner. They emphasized the need of a proper language policy which will help them to work in their language and emphasized the importance of singing the national anthem in Tamil as well.

There were heated arguments on this topic and then they raised the importance of giving a holistic political solution for the ethnic problem. They emphasized the responsibility of the government in finding a solution.  When the war was going on, everyone said that to find a solution, the war has to be ended. Saying that the problem could be solve only by addressing economic issues is a strong feature of the ideology of the current regime. The people of the North will not come to a point of reconciliation unless they are given a solution for their actual grievances which are not being addressed.

In discussing the responsibility of the civil society in this regard, a discussant said that “Unfortunately the radical people who work for Tamil people are not capable of communicating in Tamil. I see it as a huge tragedy in the country we face. This inability questions their own interest in their own work”.

Further, the audience discussed the extent of political will in addressing real issues of the country. They further addressed the extent of art as a media to address such crucial issues.