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SrI Lanka Bans Film at French Embassy Film Festival

A film festival hosted by Embassy of France in Sri Lanka scheduled to end on Bastille Day, July 14, was ordered suspended a day earlier by the Sri Lanka government for screening a film that “insults the government and its security forces.”
Igilena Maalu (Flying Fish), a Sinhala-language film directed by a Sri Lakan film director Sanjeewa Pushpakumara, premiered in 2011 and won numerous awards at international competitions.
Associated Press (AP) reported on Monday, July 15, that “Lakshman Hulugalla, the director general of the government’s Media Centre for National Security, (said) the film Flying Fish was banned in Sri Lanka because the film’s creators used images of the Sri Lankan military uniform without permission from the Ministry of Defense.” AP reported Hulugalle saying that legal action would be taken against “those involved in the making of the film.”
Meanwhile the French mission in Colombo reacting to the Government’s order to suspend the festival stated categorically that Flying Fish was permitted to be screened by the Public Performance Board (PPB).
The PPB, appointed by the Government, censors films if they are deemed inappropriate for depicting the military in a bad light and for explicit sexuality among other reasons.
In a statement reproduced in the Colombo Telegraph on July 15, the Embassy said “The Embassy received from the Public Performances Board the certifications authorising the screening of all these movies (screened at the festival). The conditions put to the screening of Flying Fish, such as its one time only presentation to a selected invited audience without children have been respected.”
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror (DM) said on July 14, “PPB Chairman Gamini Sumanasekara claims he has not given any such certification.” Sumanasekara told DM the PPB was requesting legal advice because it was “not equipped with the legal provisions to take action against screenings of any films that might contain material that might not agree with local audiences, at foreign film festivals held in Sri Lanka.”

On July 15, DM said the Criminal Investigation Department CID had questioned Asia Digital Entertainment consultant and movie director Kelum Palitha Mahirathne. “I was questioned by CID officials concerning basic details about the film such as inspirations or influences that led to the making of the movie.” He said the film was not expected to be screened in Sri Lanka and that he was prepared to cooperate with the CID investigation


While the immediate source of controversy appears to as to whether or not PPB certification was granted to the Embassy to screen Flying Fish, the larger issue is the censorship of films in Sri Lanka for their content. According to AP, Hulugalle had said the distribution and screening of the film had been stopped in Sri Lanka.

DM quoted Flying Fish director Pushpakumara saying, “As a filmmaker, I use film as a media to narrate my life experiences and this film too was influenced and inspired by such experiences. However, the film like all other art works can be interpreted differently by various individuals. The film is a multi-narrative and the story of the military officer is only one among the three. So describing the entire movie as an expression of derogation of the armed forces I believe is unfair.”

This is not the first time films depicting ‘inappropriate content’ for Sri Lankan viewers have been banned. In the past too, the PPB has been hard on films that have portrayed the military in anything but crudely triumphalist.
In 2006 while the Ceasefire Agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the rebel Tamil Tigers was still in force, a Sinhala TV series Suthu Kapuru Pethi (White Camphor) was banned by the State-run television station Rupavahini. Chairman Rupavahini, Newton Gunaratne, was quoted by the World Socialist Website (WSWS): “Some parts of this bring disgrace to these soldiers and their self-respect.” According to Panini Wijesiriwardene of WSWS two senior military officials had met a group of film makers “and said those who failed to produce pro-military movies when war resumed against the LTTE would ‘face the consequences.'”
Another film that was controversially denied permission to be screened in Sri Lanka Asoka Handegama’s Aksharaya, which was not because it brought disrepute to the military but because it violated child protection laws. Below is a link to an interview with Handagama with Young Asia Television.