While Jude claims that the film was dropped without an explanation, the festival organisers have denied this claim in a statement.

Controversy after film on Sri Lankan Tamil movement dropped from Jaffna filmfest
news Controversy Wednesday, October 03, 2018 - 19:10

Sri Lankan filmmaker Jude Ratnam was five years old when he got his first impression of the civil war in his country. His parents were fleeing Colombo with him to escape the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, when his mother told him tersely – 'Be quiet! Don't speak in Tamil or they will kill us!' The message given to the young child was clear, to prevent attack from the Sinhalese, he must maintain his silence.

And now 35 years later, Jude says that the effort to silence him has not ended. "Except this time it is my own community silencing me. And it hurts even more," alleges the 40-year-old whose documentary 'Demons in Paradise' has been removed from the screening schedule of the  Jaffna International Cinema Festival. While Jude claims that the film was dropped without an explanation, the festival organisers have denied this claim in a statement.

The fourth edition of the festival is being held from October 3 to 8 across different venues in Jaffna, which is dominated by Sri Lankan Tamils. Jude's film was initially scheduled to be screened on October 5 at 6.45 pm.

The documentary, shot over a 10-year period, highlights the Sri Lankan Tamil community’s internal battles during the civil war. It aims to expose how infighting and paranoia within the liberation groups led to several deaths and widespread displacement. Jude interviews former Tamil militants to understand the damage done by Tamils fighting for liberation to members of their own community. The movie received a red-carpet honour at the Cannes Film Festival last year and has since travelled to many other international film festivals.

"The festival's director Anomaa Rajakaruna contacted me last year and said she wanted to screen the film, but it was travelling across the world and so I suggested we screen it in 2018. It is very important for members of the Tamil community to watch this film and introspect on what happened in the civil war," says Jude.

"But on Monday I was informed that the film will not be screened because the organisers are 'facing pressure from the community'. When I asked who exactly was pressuring them, they refused to divulge any information. They just removed my film from the screening schedule," he claims.

However, in a statement, the festival’s director Anomaa Rajakaruna has contested this claim. “In his statement Jude mentions that “Thus far I have not been given a proper explanation for the removal of my film DEMONS IN PARADISE from the festival schedule” which is not accurate,” the statement says.

Questioning Jude’s intentions, the statement says, “Jude Ratnam’s film which was premiered on 24th May 2017 has been traveling to many international film festivals abroad and had many screenings in the South of Sri Lanka. The film never had a public screening in the North of the Country particularly in the Jaffna peninsula. He was reluctant to take the film to the location where a majority of the film was shot. One wonders why? Why was he reluctant to take his film there during the last 16 months?”

“Jaffna International Cinema Festival’s application criteria is twofold. Filmmakers apply for competition sections and films are invited for special screenings and discussions. Jude Ratnam’s film came to the festival through a partner of the festival who has presented his film at other locations in the South. The organizing committee has explained to the partner organization about their decision which was then relayed to Ratnam. Subsequently the partner went into discussion with Ratnam about starting a dialogue about the removal and overall freedom of expression,” the statement adds.

But Jude says he has refused to take part in the discussion, citing the hypocrisy in the very act. When he asked the organisers for an explanation on the cancellation in writing, they allegedly said that they will need a week to furnish him with the document.

The festival directors have however put the onus on Jude to start a dialogue on freedom of expression to get the film screened in the northern parts of Sri Lanka. “It is sad that Jude Ratnam chose to walk out of the discussion to issue a press statement in the South of the country without considering our offer or the implications. If the intended discussion took place, it would have opened up a space not just for the screening of one film, but for many other screenings of other filmmakers as well, in a nation divided by identity politics,” the statement says.

TNM's questions to the festival director on the reasons for dropping the film remain unanswered.

Demons of Paradise

The documentary interviews several former militants, and at several junctions, the filmmaker says he risked his life to get their perspective. "During a shoot with former militants in Jaffna, a mob of 100 people attacked us. But it is not just my life on the line. Everyone who has appeared in this documentary has put their life at risk," he says. A review of the documentary in Economic Times says that a group of militants admitted to killing close to 20,000 Tamils in the civil war.

Jude alleges that these cold blooded murders were part of the Tamil political culture that his documentary questions. "And now they have once again exposed the fact that this culture of repression and elimination still exists by disallowing my film to be screened," he alleges.



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