Wednesday, 8 January 2003  
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Government - Gazette

Sunday Observer

Budusarana On-line Edition

Saving the local cinema from decay

A scene from a socially relevant film - an art form which is in short supply

by Talia Jayasekera

The thought of visiting a film hall in this country can be a dreadful task. First, one has to wade through the numerously advertised sex films and then choose from a very bad selection of family films. The very few that can be found are in a handful of cinemas. Family movies are few and far between. People are unable to go for a movie because only low-quality sex films are being screened in many halls. It is deplorable to see such suggestive billboards plastered all over the city.

We come from a society that censors even the hint of a kiss or foul language on television but this is quite the contrary when it comes to our cinemas. Privatisation of film distribution has caused quite a deterioration in moral values. Easy money is the motive behind this scheme.

Family movies do not bring in as much profit as X-rated movies do. Some theatre groups seem to be more interested in the green notes than giving the public value-for-money films. Cheesy sex films spell quick profits for these groups and no thought is given to the message that is being promoted. Families are unable to enjoy a movie together because almost all movies shown in Sri Lanka are unsuitable for family viewing. There is no real clean entertainment for them.

Some local film directors are pulling out of the industry because it is an unprofitable campaign for them to screen their movies. Many cinemas refuse to show locally produced films and instead choose to screen sex films. Local film producers are protesting this discrimination and asking the Government to put a stop to these activities. Movies that are made in the name of art are no longer considered worthy entertainment. But it seems that cheap sex films are the "Casablanca" and "Gone with the Wind" of this era.

The question of young children and adolescents being exposed to such vulgarity also comes into play. Adolescents can easily access cinemas showing such films. Advertisements for these films loudly proclaim an age-limit but very rarely is any identification asked for. These illegal procedures are so blatant that one can often see schoolgoers entering the cinemas in their uniforms. Is it not obvious that they are underage and should not be allowed in?

What is the State doing about this problem? Is there no screening process for such films before they are released to the cinema circuits? The National Film Corporation seems to have no say in the unscrupulous methods undertaken by certain factions in the film industry. These groups, popularly known as the "film mafia", are only interested in the money and have found low quality sex films to be the key to success. It is what sells and it also gives us a startling view to what society has become.

"These practices have been going on for about five or six years, with the privatisation of the film distribution by the previous regime", said the National Film Corporation Chairman Jayantha Dharmadasa. "The previous Government did not do much to curb these activities and it continued unabated". Dharmadasa told the Daily News he was against the privatisation because the National Film Corporation lost a great degree of control over which movies were screened.

"The main problem I have is that the power given to me as Chairman is merely power on paper", said Dharmadasa. " It is not the behaviour of a Chairman to close cinemas and take people to courts so it is necessary for me to gain the support of the film industry people. Only then can this endeavour be successful".

"The National Film Corporation has no real say when it comes to what movies are screened. When we give private cinemas a stock of screened films, they do not show them. Instead they screen pornographic material. When we ask them to stop these activities they threaten to shut down the cinemas", said Dharmadasa. " The Film Corporation has only one circuit, which is 50 cinemas, and if the private cinemas close it could mean real problems.

"As for the screening process, this is done by the Performance Board and the Film Corporation has no final say in what is passed. We need to be given back this authority", he said.

"With regard to the "film mafia" I cannot comment as I do not have the real facts but I do know that such people exist".

Dharmadasa who has been Chairman for only five months is highly motivated to bring the film industry back to its glory days. " I had a meeting with artistes and producers and we all agreed that it is necessary for us to work together to improve the situation. It is necessary to educate all of them on what is happening and form an action plan", he said. "Thus the Film Corporation is looking to awareness programs for the producers, artistes and technical staff".

The National Film Corporation has many plans to upgrade the currently stagnant local film industry. In its 56th year, the film industry will now focus on more family oriented movies. The Corporation plans to build a 600 - acre shooting location in Kandy and also a fully equipped colour laboratory. Most importantly it will open a film institute in the future for budding directors and technical staff. The Corporation has also planned Sri Lankan film festivals to be held in various countries such as Singapore, UAE and Maldives to popularise our film industry.

Private film groups, claimed that by no means were they the mafia! They denied that any of their cinemas import pornographic films, alleging that it is the National Film Corporation that import these films and expect them to screen them.

The films of today greatly influence the actions of society. It is therefore the responsibility of the film industry and its branches to be aware of this situation.

Sex films degrade human life. It is unacceptable in any form or shape. Individuals, both young and old, need to be able to witness art that is purifying to the soul and not degrading to the mind. The Government, the National Film Corporation and those in the film industry need to work together to improve the lot of the film world. What possible beauty can be seen in cheap films that only appeal to man's baser needs?

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