Creating a film culture


By Sajitha Prematunge

Pic by Kamal Bogoda

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. It is the only awards ceremony that felicitates both television and cinematic works on the same platform, a duty SIGNIS has been fulfilling for 41 years. Films screened and teledramas telecast during 2017 will be felicitated at the 41st SIGNIS Awards to be held on August 25 at the BMICH.

"In my opinion, an artiste is only second to God," said SIGNIS Sri Lanka Country President and National Catholic Center for Social Director, Fr Lal Fernando. "However, creative imagination in cinema and teledrama industry is sadly lacking, perhaps due to monetary constraints." It is in such a backdrop that SIGNIS has set out to felicitate creativity in cinema and tele creations. According to Fr Fernando SIGNIS Awards are held in about 10 countries. And the Sri Lankan Awards is considered the most prestigious in Asia.

Fr Fernando informed that 26 films registered under the National Film Corporation, shown in 2017, have been selected for award consideration. Applications were called for teledramas of 100 episodes or less that completed telecast in 2017.

As insinuated by the number 361, hidden in this year's logo, SIGNIS hopes to go beyond 360 degrees, beyond full circle, by adding another stream to the Awards, short films, through the new Director Tomorrow concept.

Director Tomorrow

In keeping with this year's SIGNIS theme, 'Pride of youth in world motion picture', SIGNIS has organised a short film festival in parallel with the 41st SIGNIS Awards, to felicitate aspiring short film-makers. The Director Tomorrow short film festival and felicitation programme will be held on August 4 at the Tharangani Theatre of National Film Corporation. All entries required to be original works between two to 15 minutes. Entries in all three languages were accepted. Shorts that discuss social problems, human rights and religious conflicts, poverty and national problems were also encouraged.

Applications for the Director Tomorrow festival closed on August 1. "We received over 100 applications," said a jubilant Fr Fernando. "This proves that we have been able to fill a vacuum to facilitate young artistes."

The best 15 entries of Director Tomorrow will be felicitated with merit certificates. "It will be a four-hour programme which involves screening of the best 10 and reading of the jurors verdict," informed Fr Fernando. The best three will be presented at the 41st SIGNIS Awards and the winner felicitated. "I hate to refer to it as a competition, rather Director Tomorrow is a film festival."


"In the late 1940's stage plays were the only source of reference for pioneer Sri Lankan film makers. Later, post production of the first Sri Lankan films were done in India and they were modelled on Indian films with fights, music and dance to boot," said Dr Edwin Ariyadasa who has been in the SIGNIS jury ever since Fr Fernando took office. "Lester was the pioneering exception, a man born out of film. His films deviated from the fight, song and dance Indian stereotype."

However, the public taste was such that cinematic work of such high standard was shunned, explained Dr Ariyadasa. Years of exposure to the Indian stereotype warped the Sri Lankan public's sense of film appreciation. It was at this juncture that OCIC, now known as SIGNIS, came into the picture. In 1974 a Sri Lankan cinematic work was felicitated with an international award for the first time by the OCIC, now known as SIGNIS.

In 1973 the International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisuals (OCIC) did much for the uplifting of the Sri Lankan short film. Under the tutelage of Andrew Jayamanne, OCIC commenced their 8mm film-making course. Later with the advent of television, the OCIC, with the support of television technical institutes, commenced courses on videography. Veterans in the field now, the likes of Wimal Ranjith Fernando, Prasanna Vithanage, Sudath Mahaadivulwewa, Jayantha Chandrasiri, Ayeshmantha Hettiarchchi, Jackson Anthony, Bennett Rathnayake, Inoka Sathyangani, Asoka Handagama and Wijitha Fonseka are products of this course. In 2001 merging of UNDA (International Catholic Association for Radio and Television) and OCIC created SIGNIS.

Ariyadasa said that SIGNIS Director Tomorrow is a similar attempt as made by OCIC in the 70's when it felicitated similar promising young film makers who escaped the Indian stereotype. "It's an attempt to encourage the young generation and enrich the public's sense of film appreciation," said Ariyadasa. "OCIS is a film culture, not just an awards ceremony."

Ariyadasa explained that after the Awards, they film makers are not just forgotten, a dialogue is built around the films. Fr Fernando hopes to take ventures such as Director Tomorrow to the international level by organizing a competition for short films one minute in length, with the collaboration of World SIGNIS organization.

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