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Cannes


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Cannes out of competition "Demons in Paradise" chronicles civil war in Sri Lanka

On May 24 at the Cannes Film Festival, a daring film by filmmaker Jude Ratnam was screened out of competition  - Demons in Paradise. In a unique document,  Ratnam presents the historical context of the unrest between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka who were favored by the colonial oppressors, the British. Ratnam revealed that he can be ostracized by both sides of the civil war in Sri Lanka as a result of making this film.

Even when Sri Lanka was granted independence in 1948 from the British  there was continual strife against the minority Tamils by the Singhalese with riots and mass murder. In return, the terrorist organization “Tamil Tigers”  fought for nearly 25 years  until a cease fire agreement was reached.

In 1983, 100,000 lives were lost and many of the Tamils became refugees including the filmmaker who left Sri Lanka when he was five and moved to Canada. The massacre of the Tamils  began on the red train line. What turned out to be all out attacks on the Tamils resulted in an equally bloody revenge by fascist factions within the Tamil Tigers.

It is with this background that Ratnam explores this tragic history. He begins with historic footage of the Tamils during the British colonial era who were forbidden to speak their own language. A symbol of unification for the country was the train from the north to the south of the island, today the Kelani Valley railway line that runs through Columbo District to Yatiyanthota and Opanayaka. The old railway was used to service the rubber plantations owned by the British. (official trailer)

Ratnam visits with old neighbors who might have remembered him as a child, meeting people from both sides of the civil war that reveal that it was a senseless conflict where so many lost their lives and so many were displaced.

Ratnam’s candid film style is direct cinema and interviews and he claims he is the only filmmaker to investigate this history from within the country. In one especially vivid encounter he meets with a man who among others was ordered by the Sri Lankan government to destroy the train tracks with their bare hands, a job that was extraordinary hard labor. The abandoned train parts are shown in the film as vestiges of the colonial era. The old train lines have been completely removed though there are indentations and imprints remaining on the ground.

Ratnam attended film school in Sri Lanka. To make this film, he met a French team of producers, editors and writers including Julie Paratian of Sister Productions, as well as Tamil and Singalese backers. Other important individuals who inspired the work of this film were Raoul Peck from the Fémis film school in Paris, and members of the ARTE Documentary Unit. Thierry Frémaux chose this important film to be screened at Cannes. 

Julie Paratian,Jude Ratman,Isabelle Marina,Jeanne Oberson, and Dharshan Rajkumar at Cannes premiere May 24.©Moira Sullivan

 

Moira Sullivan , FIPRESCI

Filmfestivals.com

May 24, 2017

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