ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 38

Bravo Asitha

The British-based Lankan who bagged a BAFTA (British Academy Film Award) at a glittering ceremony in London last Sunday, shares his views on his triumph via this e-mail interview with Ayesha R. Rafiq

Who would have ever guessed that a childishly scrawled 'Do Not Erase', across carefully taped monster movies would one day transform into the title of an award-winning film. But with an inherited propensity for storytelling and the drama that goes along with it, the child's warning was perhaps prophetic.

‘Do Not Erase’, Asitha Ameresekere’s short film won the prestigious BAFTA in the short film category at a glittering awards ceremony held last Sunday at London’s Royal Opera House. The British-based Sri Lankan writer, producer and director is the only Sri Lankan to ever win a coveted Orange British Academy Film Award or BAFTA, widely recognised as the equivalent of the American Oscars, an extraordinary achievement for one so young.

Celebration time: Asitha with Jeanette Rourke, who plays the lead role in Do Not Erase and his BAFTA

'Do Not Erase' which beat hundreds of entries to win the Best Short Film Award at the BAFTA’s 60th anniversary is a poignant journey of the heart of a 40-something English working class mother as she makes a video diary for her 19-year-old soldier son posted in Iraq.

Part of the film's success may be due to the fact that it deals with a topical and hotly debated subject, one to which a lot of answers are still missing. “I made this film because I had a lot of questions, and the answers came to me in the form of what people feel after viewing it, and this tells me something new about the film each time,” says Asitha. But another reason the film may have stood out from the rest, he feels, is because it is from a perspective often overlooked at times of conflict, a family's emotional state when a loved one is involved in a war, with the pervasive fear of what tomorrow may bring.

“I wanted to explore what happens to an ordinary family in this sort of situation. A mother's relationship with her son and the rest of her family in a difficult situation is interesting to me.

“It is about communication and how people talk to each other without actually talking,” he explains. Another one of Asitha's films 'In Sight', was inspired by the way anyone of colour was viewed in London in the weeks and months following the 9/11 tragedy, a testing and relevant subject but not one that many have the courage or the perception to explore.

Speaking about his BAFTA triumph and what it means to him, Asitha says it is immeasurably rewarding to be recognised for a film that was born from a subject that touched the lives of so many, and which was made with such limited resources. The tributes it received have given him the confidence to continue writing about things that matter to him, and he hopes it will inspire other young filmmakers to do so also.

The glittering awards night

Describing the Awards itself, he says, “I surprised myself by how chilled I was, even walking up the red carpet, at the slowest pace only because the glamorous people just weren't moving, which I guess is the whole point!”

As for the nerve-wracking tension of waiting for the winner to be announced he says, “at the moment the envelope was being opened I felt more strongly than before that it didn't matter because I had already won just by being nominated”. Modestly unprepared to win, he didn't even have a speech prepared, but a hastily put together thank you included a special mention of his fellow nominees for keeping the genre of short film alive.

One of the highlights of the awards, he remembers, was being able to engage in small talk with the A-list celebrities and talented artistes present.

'Do Not Erase' is currently with the Hamburg Short Film Agency, which holds the worldwide rights for its theatrical and broadcast screening. With the interest bound to be generated by his BAFTA win, it won't be long before the film is broadcast for international audiences, he hopes.

Asitha is currently working on a novel that deals with the Asian tsunami, another question that he is looking for answers to. “First hearing about the tsunami let my imagination go into dark places..... it was difficult to comprehend, I still can't make sense of it,” he says. Like his film, a book on the tsunami, he hopes, will provide him with the anwers he is looking for.

Snippets of conversation, seeing extraordinariness in ordinary lives is what inspires him and provides him with material for much of his work.With the triumphant success of his film early in his career, more successes await him no doubt. But as he keeps stressing, his happiness lies in the smaller things, and his ambition is to carry on observing life and trying to ask questions through films, books and plays, and most importantly, continue being happy.

Well done from veteran

Sri Lankan film directors came forward to congratulate Asitha on his Award and express their pride and hope that this spelled better things to come for the local film industry in general.

Veteran film director Lester James Peiris said it was significant that a young Sri Lankan had for the first time won a BAFTA. “It is a very important award in the sense that he is now bound to receive a lot of interest from the industry. Commissioning and financing a short film is generally not easy, but with this kind of recognition, Asitha should be able to achieve much more in this genre,” he said.

Udayakantha Warnasuriya expressed the view that such a prestigious award was a strength for the local film industry at a time when the industry is facing numerous problems, mainly a lack of international recognition.

Pradeep Vithanage also praised Asitha for raising the Sri Lankan flag high in the international film industry. “A BAFTA is equal to an Academy Award or an Oscar and its prestige and importance cannot be stressed. Winning a BAFTA means you have joined ranks with the cream of filmmakers,” he said.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.