The Jaffna International Cinema Festival (JICF) begins today. The festival is taking place for the 4th consecutive year and many prestigious local and international films are being screened. Local short- film directors are also provided opportunities to showcase their talent. But this year, even before the festival kicked off, it caused quite a stir due to the Festival Committee being accused of threatening Freedom of Expression. This accusation is made by Jude Ratnam, director of the controversial film ‘Demons in Paradise’.
Notification had been made that ‘Demons in Paradise’ would be screened on October 5th. But, on Monday the notification had been retracted, and it is this which led to Jude Ratnam’s accusation that his Freedom of Expression was being threatened.
Ever since the inauguration of the JICF in 2015, it has caused controversy especially about the period in which the festival was being held. In Tamil dominated areas Thiyagi Thileepan’s memorial events are observed from 15th to 26th September. There were accusations against the JICF that it was attempting to blackout Thileepan and his struggle by holding the festival during the same period. But, putting an end to such criticism the festival was shifted to October this time around and this decision was praised widely.
Jude Ratnam’s criticism this time cannot be only taken as about the JICF committee alone and that is what necessitates this write up. This is because it fundamentally raises questions about activities and practices of the Tamil community.
‘Demons in Paradise’ self- identifies as speaking about the internecine killings between Tamil militant groups. Even though the characters in the film speak about internecine killings the director narrates the film through his personal experiences and imposes his own political expectations upon the entire community. Further, he is willing to go to any length to justify it (Especially even going to the extent of justifying the mass killing of Tamil people during the final phase of the war). He has stated this view repeatedly not only in the film but also in conversations about the film and in interviews. He has accused the Tamil community of being averse to internal reflection and behaving childishly being devoid of any capability to accept criticism.
In such a context apparently on the face of pressure by an unnamed group of people the screening of the film has been cancelled by the JICF. This ‘seems to’ validate Jude Ratnam’s criticism about the Tamil community.
This writer watched ‘Demons in Paradise’ at a closed door screening in Colombo and immediately wrote his critical view of the film in ‘Demons In Paradise’: An Irreparable Miscarriage. But, this writer does not support any threats against creative freedom or the right to publish. In fact, this film should be shown to the Tamil community and there should be honest questions raised about the one sided politics of the film. That is what would displace the demeaning nature of opinions expressed by outsiders (non- Tamils) and their supporters about the Tamil community. What has happened instead?
The Director of the JICF is Anoma Rajakaruna. The Chair of the Festival is Dr. Raghuram. Members of the Festival Committee include academics like Dr. Cheran Rudhramoorthy and Dr. Sumathy Sivamohan and others. They are the ones who take the final decision about the films to be screened at the Festival. In such a context, every film should have been watched personally and their virtue and standard discussed before selection is made for screening. There should be courage to face the films’ political and social nature and the support and objections such films would raise. This is fundamental for constructive thinking.
The whole concept of Literary Festivals and Film Festivals is to take society forward in a progressive manner. In a post- war society there is greater need to move forward and such conversations should be held in a perfect manner and arise both democratically and ideologically. Academics and intellectuals within the Tamil community need to contribute at every level of such movements and not give up or refrain when slight pressure is used. This actually pulls back the Tamil community. Academics who desire to be intellectuals need to face the society, educate them, and move towards progress through their thinking. It is nonsensical to back out in the face of the slightest pressure. That is what has happened here.
There are also messages to be delivered to those who for the sole objective of identifying themselves as Tamil Nationalists engage in such childish behaviour. This arises out of the responsibility of reiterating the need to move forward by properly understanding why Tamil Nationalism came into being and the importance of its continued existence. Those who continue to create the impression that Tamil National Politics arose out of sentimentalism and is reactionary, abandon the real and legitimate political aspirations of the Tamils. Disallowing the release of books which contain alternate views or the screening of films and thereby giving legitimacy and recognition to those expressing half-baked opinions is not what a knowledgeable society would do. But, when some parts of the community continue to engage in such acts, the end result is that the entire gamut of Tamil activity and practice is tainted by that brush.
‘Demons in Paradise’ should have been screened at the JCIF and there should have been proper critique of the film. Questions should have been asked about the reasons why it has been celebrated widely in the South. But such an opportunity has been lost by the JICF Committee, which also consists reputable academics, by giving in to pressure by some small groups. This has resulted in mudslinging on Tamil activities and practices. Societal progress is only possible when any issue is faced directly and successfully dealt with. Refraining or running away never brings permanent success, only success for a few days. What has happened now has fulfilled the expectation of small groups maybe, but it will not go beyond those groups. Instead it will give credence to Jude Ratnam’s comments in the international arena about Tamil activities and practices. This will create more demeaning opinions about the Tamil people. This does not bode well for a community still struggling for our rights.
*The writer is an independent Journalist and Columnist. This is a translation of the original in Tamil which appeared in today’s (03/10/2018) Tamil Mirror.