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CANNES ’07 ATELIER INTERVIEW | Vimukthi Jayasundara: “‘Ahasinwitai’ is a kind of climax of the idea

CANNES '07 ATELIER INTERVIEW | Vimukthi Jayasundara: "'Ahasinwitai' is a kind of climax of the idea

In The Atelier entry “Ahasinwitai” (“The Fallen“), a young Sri Lankan man flees the violence of the city, venturing to a village where myth and legend still keep a strong hold on the inhabitants. Sri Lankan filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara previously won the Camera d’Or in Cannes 2003 with his first film, “La terre abandonnee” (“The Land of Silence“).

About the program: The Atelier de la Cinefondation was created by the Cannes Film Festival to nurture specific projects from emerging filmmakers. In its third year, the program has selected fifteen projects looking for development or completion funding. Meetings and events between filmmakers and film professionals will be arranged during the Festival, May 18-25. Click here for more information on the program and projects.

Where you were born and how did you become a filmmaker?

I was born in southern Sri Lanka. I worked as a journalist, film critic and writer for the screen, also I attended the Institute for Film and Television in Pune, India and than I came to study in France at the Fresnoy School of Art before becoming a resident at the Cinefondation of the Festival de Cannes in 2003.

Talk about your previous work, including your recent films and other creative projects.

My first film was “The Land Of Silence”. This is a kind of essay in black and white describes the victims of a civil war that has been going on for 30 years in Sri Lanka. Made with cinematographic equipment from Sixties, and interspersed with occasional dialogues deliberately not represented but relayed by a background commentary, this film transforms images of the present into ghostly archives. It refuses to intensify the horror by making it appear close at hand, and denounces the alliance between technological virtuosity and fascination with war. Rather, it has faith in “history as a knowledge” to counteract silence.

After that I came to do my film studies in Le Fresnoy for two years. In 2001, I won the Moholy-nagy Scholarship to come to Le Fresnoy. It is a post-graduate art school and audio-visual research and production centre. At Le Fresnoy I did my second film, “Vide pour l amour” (“Empty For Love“). I worked with Tasi Ming-ling, my professor at Le Frenoy. It’s kind of an experimental film without dialog. The story of the film is situated in Sri Lanka and France. Four actors enter in the film as symbolic characters. They are living in distress resulting from the monotonous and grave emptiness. Though all these characters meet each other, they depart without any conflict or dialog but throughout the film a certain rhythm is developed to create a relationship and a conflict among them. On the other hand, the curiosity generated from this is transformed into a fiction, while all of them are looking forward to a change in their lives in breaking the monotony.

In 2004, I did “The Forsaken Land” – a dislocating allegory about the suppression of personal freedoms. The cruelty, despair and absurdity of the war is expressed in loosely structured scenes from the everyday life of a man, his wife and her sister, who have trouble living together in an isolated house. Feelings of hatred, desire, fear and carnal lust mesh seamlessly. If “The Forsaken Land” has something to do with my country’s history, it is especially through its conveyance of the suspended state of being simultaneously without war and without peace. With this film, I try to examine emotional isolation in a world where war, peace and God have become abstract notions.

“Ahasinwitai” filmmaker Vimukthi Jayasundara.

What is “Ahasinwitai” about and what inspired you to pursue it?

New film is about Rajith, a young man who flees the city in which he lives and where violent confrontations are common. He goes to a village in a valley where the inhabitants seem to be still strongly influenced by an old legend. The legend tells the tale of a young prince who is forced to hide in a forest because of a prophecy, which claimed he would kill one of his uncles in order to accede to power. What should we think of the world today? This film brings a kind of answer if I consider the current state of my own country, Sri Lanka. This answer goes well beyond what was shown in the forsaken land. “Ahasinwitai” is a kind of “climax” of the idea of power. The power of history and the past, military power, the power of nature, of individuals, of institutions and the power of film come together and spark off each other. All these forces go through time, come from the past, appear in the present and reach toward the future. Cities make people mad, but nature is maybe even worse: it awakens the past, awakens legends. It is the witness of all things. It constantly talks to us and refers back to myth, calls upon our imagination and fantasies.

What do you hope to accomplish for the project while you are in Cannes?

I believe that we are in a strong position at the moment, especially to
start co-producer meetings at The Atelier. The project is already supported by Visions Sud Est in Switzerland, Fonds Sud Cinema in France and co-produced by Arte France Cinema and Film Council Productions in Sri Lanka. It means that almost 50% of the funding is now secured. Michel Klein and Philippe Avril, my producers, and myself, we hope to find one or two other partners. To close up the financing would be wonderful.

What are your specific needs to continue developing your new project?

The main issue is now is getting ready for the shooting. And I need time to do it properly. Completing the financing has to go fast in order to save time for the preparation.

What are some of your favorite movies and influences?

I have been very much inspired by the work of Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray, Michelangelo Antonioni and Paolo Pasolini. These few filmmakers are very important to me. And of course other contemporary filmmakers who I really admire: Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-Liang, Ritwik Ghatak. I like all kinds of filmmakers, but these are the main ones. I wanted to mix together all these influences with a very physical feeling, like in all my films.

Which films are you most interested in seeing at this year’s Festival?

I will try to see most of the films at the festival, including the new films from Gus Van Sant, Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar-wai also my Mexican friend Carlos Reygadas‘s new film.

The latest from the 2007 Festival de Cannes is available anytime in indieWIRE’s special section.

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