A Cinematic Journey to the Future with Sri Lanka Film School

Sri Lanka Film School, the first-ever government-sponsored educational institute in Sri Lanka was established as a project in collaboration with Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF). The course Higher National Diploma in Filmmaking is directed by internationally recognized filmmaker Sanjeewa Pushpakumara.

Sri Lanka Film School conducts a three – year Higher National Diploma in Filmmaking, and the course extends to technical and aesthetic aspects of filmmaking. The key areas of filmmaking comprise film directing, cinematography, screenplay writing, and editing, lighting and sound designing. Sri Lanka Film School sources and lecturers are experienced filmmakers, academics and experts in the field and cinema industry.

The country lacked a government body, a proper cinema school or academy for decades for filmmakers to study the subject. The void in academic teaching in state universities was a pushing fact for professionals or individuals who were interested in learning in-depth filmmaking. Therefore, establishing a state-backed film school in collaboration with experts in the industry has been a giant step forward.

Sri Lanka Film School's prominent objective is producing filmmakers, cinematographers, producers, sound designers, and editors. They assist students in discovering their true potential by providing theoretical and practical knowledge.

In addition to gaining knowledge, filmmakers have to practice a unique set of skills - understanding the environment and social backgrounds of people and characters, a strong sense and ability to read human behaviour, history, politics and other subjects that are closely associated with filmmaking. Sri Lanka Film School enriches future filmmakers by providing them with valuable sources and making countless opportunities to learn and grow.

The golden decade of Sri Lankan cinema was the 70’s to 80's. Establishing Film Corporation in 1972 and prohibiting imitating Indian and South Indian copy films and songs was a strong force in building the local cinema. Script banks, courses, special exhibition schemes, granting awards for the industry followed up. Publishing Cinematic magazines and showing top quality foreign films began and many cinematographers entered the industry including D.B Nihalsinghe, Titus Thotawatte, Sugathapala Senarath Yapa, Wasantha Obeysekara. Parallel to the development of filmmakers, an audience with elevated taste came to existence.

Talented and skilled filmmakers made films such as Bambaru Awith, Welikathara, Ahas Gawuwa, Nidhanaya, Thun man handiya, Ahasin Polowata, Haara Lakshaya, Palagetiyo, Duhulu Malak, and Madol Duwa, etc. At that time, filmmakers had valuable sources related to contribute in filmmaking such as musicians, lyricists, scriptwriters, directors and skilled artists who supported their artistic endeavors.

‘Rekhava’, the first Sri Lankan film to win international attention was such an example, a collective effort of many talented artists. They filmed rural life in its’ natural environment breaking familiar and artificial ‘Studio’ stereotypes. Since then, many great filmmakers began following the footsteps of capturing realism and depicting real social life and struggles of fellow country folk.

From 1980 to 1990 the qualitative and quantitative aspects of Sri Lankan Cinema started its downfall, ruining creativity and industry-wise approach. The arrival of Open economy into Sri Lanka in 1977 struck a rough blow against flourishing local cinema, and the new technology of Cassette, Television and other technical equipment made a new audience whose demand made way for mushrooming Indian copy cinema again. Many other political and economic reasons caused the remaining audience to leave quality Sri Lankan Cinema. The dying cinema somehow survived barely breathing and existing due to the efforts of filmmakers such as H.D Premaratne, Prasanna Vithanage, Boodee Keerthisena, and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, etc.

In the ’90s another trend started with a young and new generation who had studied cinema in foreign countries. The remaining few filmmakers are still making effective and meaningful films. The 70’s and 80’s golden decade was a result of establishing Film Corporation and making rules and regulations for protecting local cinema. Despite Sri Lankan filmmakers and cinematographers winning International accolades, those achievements seem to come by the filmmakers' dedication, self – discipline, and courage to continue their artistic attempts.

Reputed filmmakers represent Sri Lanka in renowned International Film Festivals initiating from ace director Lester James Peries’s Gamperialiya winning Golden Peacock Award for Best Film at the third International Film Festival of India in 1964 and Golden Head of Palanque Award in 1965 at the Mexico International Film Festival.

Nidhaanaya by Lester won Venice International Film Festival and London Film Festival in 1972. Purahanda Kaluwara by Prasanna Vithanage won Amiens International Film Festival, Friboug International Film Festival and Singapore International Film Festival in 1999.

Saroja, directed by Somaratne Dissanayake won at Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and Dhaka International Film Festival in 2000. Samige Kathaawa (Sam’s Story) directed by Priyankara Vitanachchi won at New York City International Film Festival in 2013 and Fourth SAARC Film Festival in 2014. Sulanga Enu Pinisa directed by Vimukthi Jayasundara won at the Cannes Film Festival and Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema in 2005, and Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2004.

Davena Vihagun (Burning Birds – 2016 ) by Sanjeewa Pushpakumara won a Special Jury Prize at Tokyo Filmex International Film Festival.

Representing International Film Festivals and winning and being nominated for awards indicates that Sri Lankan Cinema is still struggling to survive amid hardships, that there is still hope for a promising future and high potential for creating skilled filmmakers. Despite the lack of educational institutions and support coming from the government level, Sri Lankan filmmakers have been able to win and thrive not only in the South Asian Cinema but also in the International screen.