Interviews

ARIYARATHNA ATHUGALA

I am Senior Professor of Mass Communication, Department of Mass Communication. In addition, I have been teaching since 1991. I am presently teaching advanced Placement Mass Communication (Honours/General), as well as MA, MSSC, PhD and Communication Diploma courses. I have been teaching in the following areas.
Theories of Mass Communication , Media History , Creative Communications , Applied Communications, Film studies, Communication and Media Research , Media Criticism, Television Studies , Multi-Media studies and Visual Art , Communication theories and concepts and Communication for Development.


Hi Ariyarathna, nice to meet you and thanks for granting us this interview.


How was born your passion for the world of cinema?

We all look for inspiration in different ways. From my younger days, I was fascinated by visual media. My reading was leaning towards the imagery; painting and photography were my subjective expressions. I love cinema because it expands my critical perspectives. I was submerged in watching different genres of film. This is how my cinematic desires were matured.

As a lecturer attached to the university, I began to teach the students about the world of cinema. The film ‘Saho’ is also made with the desire to give a good knowledge to the students’ about the cinematic imagination and ideology.

Is there a particular movie that inspired you?

It is my belief that the connection between the vision of the future and man and its destiny pushes the boundaries of cinema as an art. My love for many other directors’ films is always measured by some form of criticism. I am a fan of filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Kenji Misoguchi.

However, I believe the unique cinematic language in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia (1983) is the brightest mirror of my cinematic language.  It elevates my cinematic thinking and visual perception. Its characters and the film move forward with concerns that go beyond a surface story. The perspective built up by the critical points of his characters or the general positions of the author’s commentary helps to direct the viewer towards the discussion of the film.

What is the cinematographic scenario in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan Cinematography is technologically and creatively developing. Advanced cinematography and lighting systems are growing, and we possess the latest cameras as well. Many new movies are being created with the use of this advanced technology.

How would you describe your Feature Film “The Comrade”?

It is a challenge to give a synopsis about my own film.

The norms, conventions, and traditions that characterise university life are central to the fictional discourse embodied in my film ‘The Comrade’. The aspirations, fears, doubts, and emotions of university students are the kernel of the narrative discourse. The narrative of ‘The Comrade’ unfolds in an eternal present. I was inspired by the idea of the great Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben that the present is the only place where the past can exist.
Another Philosopher I was inspired by is Ralph Demos who describes self-deception as ”when a person lies to himself, he tries to convince himself that what he knows is not so”. This theme has also been observed in my film by drawing a connection to love and betrayal in university life.
‘The Comrade’ deals with a limited number of characters built against the backdrop of university life. I tried to portray the role of the campus environment in shaping the characters I chose and the environment as a wide screen to project their internal tensions, and I tried to redraw the rough emotional university social maps with selected characters.

What was the hardest scene to film?

The most difficult scene to film was the scene where the leading actor Dasun Pathirana attempts to jump from a hill in the Riverston area. Rivertson is a beautiful mountainous area in Sri Lanka. Compared to Colombo, the main location where shooting took place, Rivertson’s temperature was colder. Therefore, the climate change was difficult to navigate at first. Not only this, but the camera crew also had to climb the mountain with equipment. The strong winds near the slope were unbearable. The actor had to go near the edge of the rock for his scene, he, too, found the forceful wind unbearable.
Furthermore, setting up the camera was a challenge as well as there was no place to keep the camera as required for this scene, for the best camera angle was on the edge of the hill. However, amidst all such obstacles, we were able to complete shooting as planned.

Tell us about the choice of music.

I would also like to add a word about the musician Tharupathi Munasinghe. He is a well versed person in Eastern and Western music and is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy of Country Music in Australia. As a musical interpretation of the film, I endeavored to find a method for the characters to convey their youth’s different scope of feelings. As metaphoric use of the people in the movie, depicts various social and political occurrences at the university. We used three musical instruments, violin, cello, and piano to symbolize each character. The idea was to make a trio using three musical instruments about the ‘life of the youth’.

What are the main ingredients to create an independent feature film?

I believe there are many key ingredients in making an independent film. The first is to identify a theme of universal value in the director’s environment. It requires reading about the past and observing the present. It must be integrated with the postmodernist philosophy.
The second is the need to explore new dimensions of screenwriting and write imaginative images. Comparative selection skills and flexibility must be combined when using the leading cinematic techniques of camera, lighting and editing.
Actors and actresses who are suitable for the role should be carefully selected and given the understanding they need.
It is my belief that cinema should be provided with the raw material to lead it socially and philosophically rather than using it as a magic tool.

Tell us a memorable and interesting during your career.

I’m a full time Lecturer at the University of Kelaniya. There have been several important events in my career.
I have also held other positions at the national level; I was the chairman at the ‘National Rupawahini Cooperation’ and held a main position at the ‘Government Information Department’.
I, as a professor at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka, made this ‘The Comrade’ film with the help of about 40 apprentices. I have proven that creative use in practice as a new teaching method is more effective than the classroom teaching method. I’m glad to say that so many students who have gain experience in my film have entered the field of cinema immediately.

What are your future projects?

I have written a novel based on this screenplay. I also plan on publishing the film script of ‘The Comrade’ film and an academic book titled Virtual Communication.
My current target is to do a tele series of which pre-production is happening now.
In the future I look forward to making a film on philosophical basis of visual in a post-modern format.

Any final thoughts at the end of this interview?

I take this opportunity to express my appreciation for the RFA as it is a formal and credible festival especially for Asian cinema.


RFA