February 10, 2023
Good evening, Chairperson Aruni Boteju, Dr. Jayantha Dharmadasa, the film community, and fans of film. I’m so thrilled to be here for this award ceremony of the Ceylon International Film Festival, the first ever Sri Lankan Festival organized outside of Sri Lanka. Last summer, the festival was held in beautiful Santa Barbara, in my home state of California, just an hour and a half north of Hollywood.
I’m so proud to see CIFF, an American non profit organization dedicated to promoting Sri Lankan cinema to the world. Through the power of film, all of you bring stories to life – of comedy, history, passion, tragedy, and human connection. Cinema as an art forms transcends languages, borders, and religions. And we have seen the long evolution of the diversity and format of film – through long and short features, documentaries, 8mm, and digital video. Film entertains, educates, and opens our eyes to new worlds. Film can give voice to the unheard, and call attention to people, issues, and ideas that need our attention.
The first movie I remember watching in the United States after immigrating from Korea was at a drive in theater with a big bucket of popcorn, seeing E.T. on a large screen. It was about an alien, lost and far from home. I can’t tell you how much I connected with that story even if I didn’t fully understand everything in English. Through the funny and action scenes, what I remember most about that movie was the compassion and friendship between two beings very different from each other. That’s the kind of lesson a film can bring.
The U.S. embassy recently supported the AGENDA14 short film festival in Sri Lanka, the first and primary human rights film festival in the country. It included five short U.S. documentaries from the “American Film Showcase” series, films that address themes of humanity through a cultural lens in support of freedom of expression, dialogue, and the creative arts industry in Sri Lanka. One of the winning films was ‘Thotti Meengal’ by Nadaraja Manivanan about experiencing COVID through the eyes of a small child in Sri Lanka; another was Anya Ratnayaka on the Colombo Wetlands and the Urban Fishing Cat by Irushi Tennekoon which carried an important and impactful green message.
There is so much talent here- actors, directors, editors, writers, cinematographers, and the thousands who work behind the scenes of Sri Lankan cinema. And especially to those young people just starting out, this community should help give them a voice for imagination and creativity and a space to tell stories that matter. I hope that CIFF helps open a window for many around the world to appreciate and understand the tremendous potential of Sri Lankan cinema as you have so much to share. I salute all of you here today and look forward to seeing all the winners honored. Thank you.