Sri Lankan films, many of which have won international awards, have been going to seed in the absence of facilities for proper archiving.
“My films have died even before my death!” lamented Lester James Peries, the Satyajit Ray of Lanka who put the island country on the world cinematic map with his masterpiece Gamperaliya in 1965.
Out of Peries’ 20 films, eight to ten may still be in existence though not all in negative form. But in what condition they are, he does not know. “I am scared to go to the government’s film archive because I don’t want to get a shock! The facilities here are no match to what India has in Pune,” he told Express.
Seeing Peries’ plight, internationally acclaimed director Prasanna Vithanage keeps his films in the Fukuoka Archive in Japan. “There are only two fans and two ACs at the National Film Corporation’s archive at Sarasavi Studio. And the ACs are shut after 5 pm!,” he said.
But Wimal Ranawaka, Director of Sarasavi Studio, denied it saying that the 500 films there were protected by 24-hour air conditioning and a de-humidifying system.
Film buffs like Hemapriya Kandambi and Tissa Nagodavithana have large personal archives. But these are not air conditioned, and modern preservation techniques are not used.
“Kandambi rewinds the films to preserve them, and Nagodavithana simply puts them on DVD,” Vithanage said.
In just three rooms in his residence, Kandambi keeps 450 Sinhalese, Tamil, Hindi and English full-length movies; 450 trailers; 750 posters; a variety of 8 mm, 16 mm, 35 mm and 70 mm projectors; besides cameras and recording equipment from the earliest times. He does not think air conditioning is needed, though he plans to move into a large air conditioned building next year.
Kandambi has bought it all with his own money, the cost ranging from a few hundred rupees to a some lakhs. “What organizations and individuals consider junk is priceless for me!” he said gleefully.
He earns by lending films to TV stations, but notes with sadness that commercial interest in old movies is waning.