Cinema on wheels: A new hope for local cinema | Sunday Observer
‘The Newspaper’: The Best Film of Ceylon International Film Festival 2022

Cinema on wheels: A new hope for local cinema

19 June, 2022

The Newspaper’ is a story about a poverty-stricken small family living in the dry zone of Sri Lanka which is forced to get engulfed in a wave of miseries, that they were not destined to, owing to an inaccurate news item, published in a national newspaper which stated that their son is part and parcel of a suicide bombing carried out by the terrorists.

Consequently, the ill-fated family had to be at the dead-end of the anger and hatred of their fellow villagers and eventually they were driven away from their native village. But, after almost a decade, the truth behind the wrong news report is revealed.

The film depicts a resolute and steadfast friendship between two modest men who entrust themselves with the task of making a wrong into a right.

The Newspaper’, the directorial debut effort by popular television and cinema actor duo Sarath Kothalawala and Kumara Thirimadura won the Best Film award, including four main awards at the Ceylon International Film Festival which concluded recently in Santa Babara, the United States of America. 

‘The Newspaper’ is also the fourth award-winning film produced by Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardhana and this is the third international recognition for the film as it has been awarded the Best Film in the Asian Cinema Competition at the 2022 Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) and for best direction at the 23rd Rainbow Film Festival London 2022, which was held across East London in early this month. 

The co-directors of the film Kothalawala and Thirimadura played the two main roles with Pubudu Chathuranga, Gihan Fernando and Dharmapriya Dias playing the supportive roles. The film was co-produced by H.D. Premasiri and Ravindra Guruge.

The film is enriched with the music composition of Gayathri Khemadasa. Edited by Rukmal Nirosh and cinematography by Chandana Jayasinha the film was released during the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

Obsession for cinema

Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena

The mere obsession for cinema does not make you a filmmaker, but the Kothalawala and Thirimadura duo show us that with sheer curiosity, tenacity and irresistible determination can lead you towards your dream. 

“I have always been fascinated by films. Growing up, movies were my window to the world. We are thrilled to get international recognition for our debut effort in cinema. It is truly encouraging,” the co-director of the film Sarath Kothalawala told the Sunday Observer.  

In his vibrant journey as an actor Sarath Kothalawala first appeared in Street theatre ‘Diriya Kadella’ directed by veteran artist late Jayalal Rohana.

Renowned theatre practitioner late Shelton Payagala was his beloved guru and guided him throughout his acting career.

As he explained it took years for him to study the basic characteristics of drama and acting. Kothalawala has acted in about 80 stage plays, 50 teledramas and nearly 40 films. ‘Thanha Rathi Ranga’ was his debut screenplay that he co-wrote with his bosom buddy Kumara Thirimadura. The film was well-received by audiences and critics and was a commercial hit. The duo won the Award for the Best Screenplay at the Derana-Lux Film Awards in 2014. 

Speaking about being diversified in the entertainment industry, Kothalawala believes that filmmaking offers a huge opportunity to create awareness and really touch people.

“It is such a powerful form of communication. I find it incredibly invigorating to write a story and to see it transformed into a visual language. Therefore, I believe filmmakers have a responsibility to be authentic. When selecting the theme of ‘The Newspaper’ we wanted to bring out a certain truth about the media as they are the ones who wield the decisive power over all of us whether we like it or not,” Kothalawala said.  

Role of the producer

Undoubtedly to make a career as a filmmaker requires painstaking determination, resilience and clear vision. However, it is a tough road to travel in a country such as Sri Lanka where the film industry hardly exists. The reason for the existence of at least a nominal cinema industry in Sri Lanka is only because of the involvement of enthusiastic people.  

Dr. Bandula Gunawardena is not a stranger in Sinhala cinema as his association with the cinema fraternity goes back decades. He stepped into the realm of Sinhala ` cinema in 1985, producing Dharmasiri Bandaranayake’s third feature film ‘Suddilage Kathawa’, for which he received the Best Film Producer of the Year in 1986 at the Sarasavi Film Festival.

A few years later, Dr. Gunawardena produced two more films ‘Sirimadura’ and ‘Ayoma’ helping  young and aspiring filmmaker and a trailblazer in Sri Lankan theatre Parakrama Niriella to gain a foothold in the cinema industry.

Both films were critically acclaimed and won several awards at local film festivals including Best Producer award at the Sarasavi Film Festival in 1990.

According to Dr. Gunawardena for a few reasons ‘The Newspaper’ is a turning point in the Sinhala cinema. First and foremost, the film has opened up the avenue for two great actors, Sarath Kothalawala and Kumara Thirimadura to discover their potential in filmmaking and Dr. Gunawardena is humbly delighted to be part of their journey as the producer as the talented duo was able to mark an imprint in the international film arena with their debut effort. 

Dr. Gunawardena told the Sunday Observer, “As the producer of the film it is truly an encouragement to receive international recognition. Despite living a busy life as a politician, my interest in the film industry never waned. The numerous awards received for ‘The Newspaper’ film is proof about the creative talent in the country. It is not wrong to admit the fact that the Sinhala cinema industry is in a crisis. To overcome this, we do not have any other options other than international tie-ups to develop the cinema industry in Sri Lanka.” 

Explaining the reasons behind his decision to produce ‘The Newspaper’, Dr. Gunawardena said that one of the things he really liked about film was the way Thirimadura and Kothalawala managed to serve the demands of the entertainment aspect of cinema while also paying tribute to a more classical form of storytelling.

“To be frank I was fascinated by the script of ‘The Newspaper’ from the very beginning. The story had a cinematic style. Although it was their debut effort, I strongly believed in their creativity and passion towards cinema. Directors are not born as blockbuster filmmakers. It is a gradual process.  And if you get the right person to come up, it’s a great experience, I thoroughly enjoyed working with them,” Dr. Gunawardena said. 

Cinema on wheels 

With all the changes that have been taking place in the film industry over the past few years, filmmakers who seem consistently able to adapt to the shifting landscape while still remaining true to their own tastes and sensibilities is somewhat fascinating.

Unfortunately, there’s hardly any industry for cinema anymore here in Sri Lanka. However, the producers and directors whose careers span decades and also the young generation who show no sign of decline in their enthusiasm or creativity are still the livewire of local cinema.

Being sensitive to all these changes, Dr. Gunawardena is about to introduce a novel mobile cinema concept in Sri Lanka that focuses on the concept of using movies as a means to promote diversity and strengthen local and national identities by bringing films and projectors to places that do not have movie theatres. 

According to Dr. Gunawardena the concept is still in the developing stage and it will facilitate the promotion of cultural diversity and to strengthen local and national identities through the dissemination of movies in every corner of the country that does not have movie theaters.

“It is high time to shift and explore new models to boost the cinema culture in Sri Lanka. Therefore, we hope to introduce a mobile cinema based on mobile trucks which will be affordable and much more entertaining. The concept is still in the development stage; however, we are hoping to launch it soon,” said Dr. Gunawardena.