Priyantha Kaluarachchi is a filmmaker, a producer of documentaries for television, and a renowned theater director in Sri Lanka. He was a production assistant for Vimukthi Jayasundara’s second feature film, Between Two Worlds, in 2007. The same year, he participated in the Berlinale Talent Campus with his documentary Pareliya (2006). ‘A Girl with Red Butterfly Wings’ (2015) is his first fiction feature film which has been renamed to ‘Red Butterfly Dream’.
Q: You are a documentarian as well as a filmmaker. Why did you switch to ‘surrealistic film’, like in ‘Red Butterfly Dream’?
A: Yes, I was a documentarian and I have plans to make a documentary in the future. Documentaries are related to real life. In films, you think in a magical way. You can’t depend on the reality when you go into the cinema hall. It’s like going to another space. From my point of view, at the time before our new government, there were lots of restrictions in film. Many media people were killed and it was not easy to make the films you want in Sri Lanka. When I think about my plot, I really couldn’t tell my story in a real way. It’s about a Tamil girl who is coming from the border area and she meets the Sinhalese people and they sacrifice her to get treasure. At that time, it affected me and earlier I started as a dramatist. I really liked absurd drama… Samuel Baker, Edward Albee. I think, human behavior and thinking is not real. Even though we think we are in reality, we are actually in absurdity. Right now, we are living and at the moment, we might think real things when at the same time we think in the unreal. That’s what I want to capture in my film. It goes on in a realistic way and at the same time it touches absurdity and surrealism. I capture human absurdity in a surrealistic way.
Q: Surrealism doesn’t put hard facts directly into people’s minds. It keeps a film entertaining right?
A: Yeah. Thinking about Sri Lankan cinema, I don’t see a lot of surrealistic film. It’s okay because, it’s hard to make films in a surrealistic way. I tried surrealism because I like the absurdity of the human mind. As I told you before, in reality our minds might not even be thinking in terms of reality.
Q: Does Sri Lankan film concentrate only on the hard truth?
A: We have commercial films as well as artistic films. For the last 15 years, we were dealing with the war. It really changed our lives. Therefore, films used to be based on the hard truths. But now I think people here have shifted to other areas in film. I think everything is the hard truth, even life.
Q: Can you talk to us about censorship in Sri Lanka?
A: After the new government came to power, we have had no censorship. This has been a great achievement. I am also a political activist, by the way. For the last 15 years I’ve been doing a lot of work. Actually, we participated in bringing change to the previous regime. Now, we categorize the films for children and ones for adults.
Q: What is your opinion about the lives of people in Sri Lanka after the war?
A: In 2009, the war came to an end. A physical end of the war. The Sri Lankan army crushed the Tamil guerilla. Hatred is not good and we need a mutual understanding. The false ideology of ‘Tamil people’, ‘Tamil nations’, is an extreme. We have Buddhist extremists. In political parties we have Tamil extremists and Sinhalese extremists. They don’t consider the best options to gain freedom. After the war, we have been healing and we are forming a new government, getting the land that was captured. As an artist, I work for reconciliation. To find out the right solution, we need to have a mutual understanding. Not as a religion, not as an ideology but we have to understand humanity.
Q: Can you tell us about the new type of administration in Sri Lanka?
A: The last regime was a terrible one. Now the opposition and the main party work as a coalition. The 2 parties that are working as a coalition are trying to work very democratically. We have a kind of democracy now.
Q: From what you just said, do you think Sri Lanka is in the right path?
A: I think we are, but still, there are a few problems. We are still trying to get on the right path.
Q: Has the war influenced cinema in Sri Lanka?
A: That’s a good question. During the times of war, we had very stringent censorship. During the regime was when I shot the film. I shot film in secret. You would be killed if you talked about Tamil issues or terrorism issues. My film talks about a Tamil girl who goes to the Sinhalese area to look for her sister. Now, we even have freedom to film what we want.
Q: Is it your first time at the IFFK?
A: Yes. It is amazing. I’m going to come early for the next IFFK. I will be telling my friends about this. There is an amazing crowd here. I’m very glad to have come here and I’m happy.
Q: What is your opinion on the ‘new-gen’ films in Sri Lanka?
A: There are a lot of new directors now. I think the filmmakers are coming up with new ideas and better films.
Q: Some people say ‘Sri Lankan films are politically one-sided’. What are your views on that statement?
A: I think the films here are balanced and they don’t support any political party. I can’t agree with that statement. I don’t think that way either. I don’t know if my answer is enough.
Q: Could you tell us about the status of women in Sri Lankan film?
A: We don’t have many woman directors. But, there are women who make short films. Especially from the young generation and I’m sure that they’ll be going into feature film soon.