For the very first time in this country, there was a special Film Festival, celebrating women & womanhood, to coincide with , this year! This was in the first week of this month! The opening movie was on 28th February 2019, which I didn’t go for, plus I wasn’t able to attend the movies on 1st & 2nd of March 2019! So the 3rd of March, 2019, was my very 1st attendance at the very 1st Colombo International Women’s Film Festival!! The Festival took place at the National Film Corporation (NFC), in Colombo.

Julia Jentsch & Emilia Pieske in 24 Wochen (2016)

My Day 1 (3rd March 2019)

Afternoon 3:30pm (1530hrs)

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Tradition (2016) – Short Film, directed by Lanka Bandaranayake

An elderly woman decorates a young depressed looking bride, in traditional Kandyan jewellery, as the bride reflects on her past sexual liaisons. Good premise and the decorating of the woman in bridal attire is beautifully done, but the flashbacks look fake. Sometimes nudity is added just for the sake of it, and it doesn’t work, like in this case. For example, there is stark naked man seated in toilet, then he just gets up showing us his clean buttocks and flushes the toilet (he neither wiped nor washed his ass before doing so, yet the bugger was spotlessly clean), another half naked man walks really carefully, in nothing but a shirt, and turns slowly so that his perfectly placed shirt manages to cover his penis (who talks and walks like that, is he training to be a monk?) As I mentioned the nudity is put in just for the sake of sensationalizing nudity. What I am trying to say is not that shit ought to shown on his ass or there need to be a show of a guys genitals, but my point is how unrealistic and artificial those flashback scenes felt. What I liked was veteran, Irangani Serasinghe, who was admiringly marvellous as she explained the significance of each piece of jewelry. Especially when she puts the chained rings, and mentions that the new bride will be chained to her husband and children for life (in other words, there is no escape). The ugly and unhappy bride was well portrayed as well, and from her memories we are shown she’s no virgin bride as Sri Lankan brides are presumed to be!

Good Concept, but the flashback sequences could’ve been handled better.

Average Fare: 5/10

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Deepa Mehta’s Anatomy of Violence (2016) was based on the real life gang rape that shook the Indian capital, in December 2012, yet depicting a fictional backstory for each of the perpetrators.

Anatomy of Violence is made in the style of a mockumentary, a fake realism of sorts, with adult actors playing children as well, including their own younger selves. The movie was actually bit of a drag, and a lot of time is wasted on each person’s backstory. The perpetrators are humanized a level bit too much. Showed them in a very sympathetic light and time wasted to show how ‘ordinary’ these men are. No matter what they might have gone through when they were young (for it’s mere speculation) that’s no excuse for what they did, as adult men, with a mature enough brain that’s quite aware of what they were doing. And we do get to see that they have no conscience, no regret. As much as you can empathize with what they might have gone through growing up, you can’t feel any kind sympathy towards their selfish inhumane act. These six men, gang raped a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern, Jyoti Singh Pandey, in a moving bus, beat her and tortured her. She succumbed to her injuries and died in within two weeks after the assault.

The film is divided into segments, and the Aftermath segment, with the details of actual newsreels inter cut with documentary drama style, was the best segment. This film could have worked way better as a documentary of an Actors Workshop, rather than using the improvisational exercises as a representation of reality.

None the less, Anatomy of Violence was an averagely good effort, from the acting talent, as well as from the famed film director.

Average Fare: 6/10

Panel discussion on Violence Against Women.

This discussion was quite good. Wish there more people in attendance, only about ten people were left in the audience (for the movie there were only a few more, who left as the interesting discussion started). I shared my own thoughts on Deepa’s Mehta’s perspective transferred onto the Big Screen (including some of the stuff I mentioned above), when the audience was given a chance to question and comment. I enjoyed this post-film Q&A, more than the actual feature. Wish Deepa Mehta herself was present. It would’ve been interesting to speak to an acclaimed director like her directly, a director I use to have such great admiration for back in the 90’s & noughties (especially thanks to her directorial ventures like; the brilliant first two installments in her Elements trilogy, Fire,1996 &1947:Earth,1998, and a really good third installment made amidst a lot of controversy, Water, 2005, as well as her, far from great, but still pretty good flicks, like, Camilla, 1994, Heaven on Earth, 2008 & Midnight’s Children, 2012).

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Evening 6:15pm (1815hrs)

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Bless this home (2019) – Short Film by Randi Pavithra Kaluarachchi, was just crap.

The silly “Dishum Dishum” sequence was ridiculous (a play on fantasy versus reality). Can’t really compare it to Mehta’s film, where adult actors play child characters. What Pavithra Kaluarachchi wanted to showcase was domestic violence, in a manner of child’s play. So we see the parents in cowboy hats (the father in full cowboy gear) pointing their figures at each other going “Dishum Dishum”. Ultimately we see the woman dead, in reality. It just didn’t work, for me at least, and it came out looking quite silly. As I mentioned it to the director herself, when I met her briefly later that night.

It might have worked better if she made it in a more surreal setting, having a cowboy chasing a cowgirl, both on horseback, making it looking like an actual western, and then the cowboy lassoing the cowgirl off her horse, cutting to reality to show the dead woman and two little kids starring at her. That would have made for a better movie than two fully grown humans doing a silly “Dishum Dishum” to each other inside a house!!!!

Thus it’s mainly thanks to the two adult leads, that the movie was ruined. A good concept none the less, what Randi Pavithra Kaluarachchi tried to indirectly show, but unfortunately, really poor in the execution.

Pathetic: 1/10

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24 Wochen (2016), English Title: 24 Weeks

Directed by Anne Zohra Berrached, this German movie, discusses the issue of late-term abortion. This was the best film, I saw, at the Festival.

A happily married woman with a little daughter, is about 6 months pregnant with her second child, when she learns that the unborn child would have down syndrome. Along with her husband, they slowly come to terms with bringing up a child with down syndrome, including taking their little girl to special schools for kids with down syndrome, so that the daughter can adapt to her brother’s disability, once he’s born. Just as they’ve made peace with the fact of raising a child like that, they get worse news. The unborn baby also has a heart defect.

The movie deals with the moral dilemma the parents have to face, when it comes to having a late-term abortion, trying to make the decision as to have the baby, or abort the growing child. And since it’s a late-term abortion, she’d have to go through an induced labour and the probability of the child being born alive are high. Thus, the new born baby will have to be given a lethal injection. Sad, tragic, painfully heart rending!!! We feel for the parents, having to go through what they are going through, without judging them for their final decision.

Beautiful and tragic!

Very Good: 8/10!

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My Day 2 (5th March 2019)

Evening 6:15pm (1815hrs)

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Love vs. Love (2019) – Short Film by Pavithra Damunugahkumbura. What in the world was that? It was so pathetic, there is nothing to salvage!

Pathetic: 1/10

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Mary Shelley (2017)

Saudi Arabia’s 1st female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour, directed the bio-pic of the famed female author responsible for giving birth to Frankenstein, in the early 19th century. The book was published in 1818.

The movie is beautifully made, but falters towards the end, but it’s still a pretty decent period piece (see my tweets below). Al-Mansour’s previous feature film (a Saudi Arabian movie, made in the Arabic language), Wadjda (2012) was a superb movie. I highly recommend that. Way way better than this bio-pic, which too was quite good though.

Pretty Good: 7/10

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My Day 3: Closing Ceremony (7th March 2019)

Evening 6:30pm (1830hrs)

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Sri Lanka’s veteran female director, Sumitra Peries, was felicitated with the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, at this 1st Colombo International Women’s Film Festival! Deservedly so, SL’s top director, Lester James Peries’ wife, is a filmmaker in her own right. This event took longer than necessary, mainly thanks to long boring speeches by multiple female film personalities of this country. Sumitra Peries though, was kind enough not to take too much time, as she felt us spectators might be anxious with all talk and no screening happening.

From the speeches, Dr Sumathy Sivamohan, through her speech, though a tad long, shared something really interesting on how when Sumitra Peries’ directorial debut, Gahanu Lamai (1978), was released, they traveled all the way from Jaffna to Colombo, when they heard it was directed by Lester James Peries’ wife. Yashoda Wimaladharma gave a very genuine speech, recalling the Late Lester James Peries, with a teary eye and a wavering voice. Touching!

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Sumitra Peries’ latest venture, Vaishnavee (2017), closed the Film Festival. As much as Mrs Peries is a well revered personality here, I was really disappointed with this movie. A localized tale, akin to the ancient Greek mythological tale of Pygmalion and the Ivory Sculpture, Vaishnavee, truly bored me. A grieving puppeteer, whose bride to be has eloped with her lover, carves a female puppet from a tree inhibited by a tree goddess. The puppet comes to life and he falls in love with it, but they aren’t destined to be together. The concept of being in Love with the Unreal (see my Blog post from May 2017, as well). The acting, the characters and the plot development was far from good. Irangani Serasinghe was OK; Mahendra Perera was Mahendra Perera, like he is in practically every movie; few funny moments with Samadhi Arunachaya (a sort of comic-relief); Veena Jayakody looked like she was suffering from a constant asthma attack, and the rest of the cast members, including Yashoda Wimaladharma, truly bored me. Some laugh at them, rather than laugh with them, funny moments in the film (with the exception of Arunachaya). Enjoyable story line based on a fantasy, but poor execution. Though not the worse film ever, it was still really bad!

Very Bad: 3/10

Instead of showing her latest movie, it would have been better for the festival organizers to have shown her best work. Like Ganga Addara (1980) for example. Though that too is only Average Fare (after all Lankan movies are yet to come to an international standard, they have a long way to go, see my Blog post on The SAARC Film Festival 2018 from May 2018), Ganga Addara is definitely among the better movies made in this country.

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I wish I could have worked on a better post, analyzing the movies in depth, but struggling through so much emotional turmoil, through my stress, anxiety attacks and depression, it’s been very difficult to do a proper blog post. But am managing the best I can. Way too many disturbances and distractions, breaking my concentration and ruining my train of thought. Sometimes am just too exhausted, both physically and mentally. My head literally hurts (but my diabetic meds are pretty strong too) and I feel very sensitive to sound (and this country is very noisy in every possible way). Plus, my high blood sugar is apparently affecting my eyesight. My vision fluctuates in a very weird manner, especially when typing on my Laptop!

Anyway, glad there was this wonderful festival. This was the 1st, hope there will be more in the future. This country is very good at having a 1st, but follow ups are an extreme rarity (for e.g. there was a 1st and 2nd Colombo International Film Festival, in 2014 & 2015; but nothing else). So kudos to all the organizers for this film fest, celebrating Women, for , let’s hope it continues, annually.

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