GEARING PLATFORMS FOR COLLECTIVE NARRATIVES
One of the first film directors to endure authoritative censorship in the miniscreen for the social and political motifs explored, Anomaa Rajakaruna is an admirable artist, curator and founder of local and international film festivals, dedicated to recording and promoting audio-visual history of significance. Anomaa’s impact towards the film industry was not only through her stimulating cinematic narratives, but her initiation of Agenda 14, a platform for cinema related activities incepted in 2011 rooted upon the premise of Article 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution regarding freedom of expression.
Anomaa Rajakaruna cites her inspiration to work in the field of film making began as a child. “During my early years, I realized photography and storytelling can combine, and that was the point at which I started thinking in terms of moving image”. As her creative writing was also being published in English and Sinhala newspapers at the time, a rare opportunity soon arose to enter a scriptwriting course. Television was introduced to Sri Lanka around 1980, and Anomaa was seventeen years old when she made her first short film.
The filmmaker reflects that the content produced in her early years was centered on the simplicity of daily occurrences. “Looking back, I can see that it was the reflection of my day to day life, a life as a child in a family where girls were treated differently to boys”. The depicted narratives develop into politically oriented work, as philosophy and political thought helped formulate further experiential understandings of gender and class discrimination. “Most of my poetry, short stories and photo-stories were about finding one’s place and questioning the norms”.
During this time, the introduction of television was reinventing film and theatre industries, as new mediums were explored. The first short feature film Anomaa produced was a 25-minute film, titled ‘Sonduriya’ created shortly after the 1983 Black July riots, depicting a woman who, in the aftermath of losing her husband due to displacement, becomes involved with another man, only to find her husband many years later as a disabled person. This production had her fired from the television network Rupavahini on the basis it was of adult content. “A Hindu temple in front of our school was burnt down, the whole Panadura town and main street where shops were owned by all three communities, Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese, became an overnight shamble. The landscape changed. Walking into society and adult life experience was in the midst of immense uncertainty”. The film was about human emotion and conflict. “How does one cope? You needed to live your life with things like this happening”. With similar experiences with the ITN firm, it was clear that what was in question was not production quality but the fact it was a young girl making films in a male dominated industry.
Despite difficulties on her way, the stalwart continued to produce film, working through different class dynamics and discussing topics most were reluctant to be associated with in the public sphere. The next film ‘Senehasaka Kathawak’ (1986) explored trauma, mental health and therapy in stillbirth, serving as a catalyst when it was selected for a festival at the Michigan State University, USA. “This was before the age of the internet. It was the very first Sri Lankan short film selected.”
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