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SIGNIS Apolitical and areligious



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It all started with a tea party. For the first time, in 1973 a tea party was organized at the Bishop House by Fr Poruthota, under the guidance of Cardinal Cooray, for Sri Lankan artistes. The discussions that ensued lead to the advent of International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisuals (OCIC) in Sri Lanka. In 1974 a Sri Lankan cinematic work is felicitated with in international award for the first time, by the OCIC, now known as SIGNIS. SIGNIS Awards 2018 will be held on August 25 at the BMICH. In parallel, Director Tomorrow film festival and felicitation, which celebrates aspiring short film-makers will be held on August 4 at the Tharangani Theatre.


 


SIGNIS Director Tomorrow Film Festival and felicitation will be held on August 4 at the Tharangani Theatre. The best 15 entries will be felicitated with merit certificates and the best three will be presented at the main SIGNIS Awards to be held on August 25 at the BMICH.


By Sajitha Prematunge


Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray (1901-1988), got the opportunity to attend the Second Vatican Council, the first of such that accommodated media, during a time when media was considered the work of the Devil by the Church. Cardinal Cooray was able to put into practice the decisions made during the Second Vatican Council long before the rest of the world adopted them. The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka initiated many changes in 1965, salient among these is the increasing role of media facilitated by Fr Joe Neththasinghe.


"Media in fact, helped to disseminate the message of Catholicism, which marked a renaissance in Catholicism," said SIGNIS Sri Lanka Country President and National Catholic Center for Social Director, Rev. Fr Lal Fernando. "This was only made possible with the Second Vatican Council, which convinced the Church itself of the benefits of media."


In 1972 Rev. Fr. Ernest Poruthota was put in charge of media affairs of the Church. "The media involvement which started with Second Vatican Council started to take root in Sri Lanka by 1972. For the first time, in 1973 a tea party was organized at the Bishop House by Fr Poruthota, under the guidance of Cardinal Cooray, for Sri Lankan artistes," said Fr Fernando. The discussion that ensued lead to the advent of International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisuals (OCIC) in Sri Lanka. In 1974 a Sri Lankan cinematic work is felicitated with in international award for the first time by the OCIC. "This lead to a renaissance in Sri Lankan cinema. Without stopping short of appreciating local talent, the Church took it upon itself to provide such artists with film training courses."


Fr Fernando pointed out that OCIC film training courses laid the foundation for many veterans in the field alive and dead. Veterans such as Dharmasiri Bandaranayake, Dharmasena Pathiraja, Titus Thotawatte, Lester James Peries and Vasantha Obeysekera are synonymous with OCIC. Since 1975 the courses have laid the foundation for bigwigs and diverse personalities in the cinema of today, the likes of Asoka Handagama, Prasanna Vithanage, Sudath Rohana, Inoka Sathyangani and Anoma Rajakaruna.


Fr Poruthota was able to bring down Belgian, German, Italian and French films of international repute to Sri Lanka and make them available for public viewing through various embassies, facilitated by OCIC. "This facilitated a dialogue about such films among personalities in the Sri Lankan film industry. This was a rare opportunity not afforded to many other countries at the time," said Fr Fernando, emphasizing the major role OCIC played in developing the Sri Lankan film industry.


In 2001 merging of Unda (International Catholic Association for Radio and Television) and OCIC created SIGNIS. SIGNIS, a Roman Catholic lay movement for communication media professionals, is an organization with representation from close to 140 countries. Presented annually by SIGNIS, SIGNIS Awards recognizes excellence of professionals in the film industry. "SIGNIS Awards are held in something like 10 countries in the world. And the Sri Lankan Awards is considered the most prestigious in Asia," said Fr Fernando.


Fr Fernando pointed out that SIGNIS Awards is the only awards ceremony that felicitates both television and cinema works on the same platform. SIGNIS is also reputed for not basing their decisions on SMSs. Rather than popularity SIGNIS gives pride of place to quality. Two judge panels consisting of members of various traditions such as local and international film-makers, university academics and veteran film critics spend many hours watching the many teledramas and films that were telecast and screened each year. "To ensure that the judge panel is capable of reviewing works that make use of new technology, we incorporate reputed technicians who are trained in relevant technologies in the judge panel."


Fr Fernando maintained that SIGNIS Awards is independent. "We have no religious agenda and no biases towards a political party, the government, any TV station or commercial establishment." He informed that through out SIGNIS history as much as 90 percent of the jury consisted of Sinhala Buddhists and Tamils. "In fact, SIGNIS Awards are so sought after for their unbias that some artistes openly says that getting at least one SIGNIS in their life would make up for all their hard work. Our only objective is raising the standards Sri Lankan artistes."


SIGNIS is presented under 20 categories, such as Best Film, Best Teledrama, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Deployment, Best Animation, Best Music, Best Singer, Lifetime Achievement Award, Special Jury Awards and many more.


Two years ago SIGNIS introduced the animation category into the Awards. SIGNIS is also the first awards ceremony to introduce citations and key note address. This year's SIGNIS Awards will specifically focus on the youth. A salient feature of this year's Awards is the Director Tomorrow short film festival and felicitation programme. "Most artists have humble beginnings. But this is more pronounced as of late, with aspiring film-makers resorting to mobile phones to shoot documentaries." Fr Fernando pointed out that making a quality full-length film, that would cost around Rs 30 to 40 million, is but a dream for many Sri Lankans. "But through new technology any aspiring film-maker can introduce his or her concept to the world and request for funds. There are organizations that are willing to provide financial help. This is when social media come in handy. SIGNIS hopes to act in this capacity."


SIGNIS Director Tomorrow criteria are just as strict as that of the SIGNIS Awards. All entries must be original works, should be between two to 15 minutes long and should not plagiarise from popular films. "Entries in all three languages are welcomed, after all film is a universal language." Fr Fernando encouraged film-makers to send entries that discuss social problems, human rights and religious conflicts, poverty and national problems.


The best 15 entries of Director Tomorrow will be felicitated with merit certificates and the best three will be presented at the main SIGNIS Awards to be held on August 25 at the BMICH.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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