A Tamil lady intimately familiar with the militant struggle who watched Demons in Paradise in London last year said: “The film is balanced. Have you seen it? It speaks of government atrocities and mob violence against the Tamils and then about Tiger atrocities, very explicitly about the TELO massacres and then Manoranjan speaks of his experiences, about the torture and killings of NLFT cadres etc.
However, the screening of the film in Jaffna confronted unexpected obstacles. Following the removal of Demons in Paradise from the schedule of the October 2018 International Film Festival in Jaffna, the film’s Director Jude Ratnam says: “Festival Director Anomaa Rajakaruna during her phone conversation very clearly told me that people came to Festival Manager Dr. S. Raguram and that they had a petition of sorts signed by some 60 odd people.”
This is completely denied by Dr. Raguram of the Dept. of Media Studies University of Jaffna, who said that he had nothing to do with the decision to screen the film or to exclude it. He said, “I expressed my views regarding the screening… and I said that since I have different views about the opportunity of screening of [this] particular film and its consequences, allow me to resign from the position which I hold and continue the schedule as it [stands]. Later, they informed me that they have changed the schedule after discussion with the partners and requested me to continue [in my present position of Festival Manager]…
“Accordingly, I admit that the arrangements should be made to screen the film in the University or anywhere in Jaffna and have a constructive discussion on it. I definitely say that I’ll be a participant for it and I’ll ask all my Media students to attend it even though we may have divergent views.”
As revealed in a Facebook exchange between Anomaa and Kesavarajan Navaratnam, an actor cum director from the North, it appears that some Tamils who are friendly with Anomaa instead of encouraging her to go ahead with the screening of the film and mobilising support for it using their connections in the North, chose to defend Anomaa’s decision. We have in a Facebook exchange cited after the Festival organisers decided to remove Demons in Paradise:
Kesavarajan Navaratnam: Good decision Anomaa, we are with you.
Anomaa Rajakaruna: Thank you Kesa, our struggle continues and hope as a country one day we can stand together.
Kesavarajan Navaratnam: Yes Anomaa, if you screened in this festival it will be the last festival in Jaffna
Personal and other factors, some of which we do not fully understand, influenced the fate of the film in Jaffna. Kesavarajan Navaratnam acted in a recent film on inter-ethnic reconciliation sponsored by the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation. As an artist supposedly involved in reconciliation, he should have supported a film that calls for introspection, but instead, he became a willing tool of anonymous groups who would squander the opportunity for reconciliation provided by the film festival.
Public discussion about the film started with the official press release on 13th April 2017 when Demons in Paradise was announced in the Official Selection for the Cannes Festival and was among the nine, including Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow, selected for Special Screenings.
In an interview to the web journal Catamaran (19th April 2017), Navaratnam said that although he rejected the idea of fighting with guns, he did work for the Tigers and made films for them. He added:
“There are lies being told about the Tamil people in some of those films. I do not think anyone who does not know Jaffna, can make a movie about Jaffna. Without seeing the environment here, how can anyone make a movie about the place?”
If that is how he felt, the screening of the film and the discussion would have given him ample opportunity to expose Jude. Cannes Film Festival on 8th May 2017 announced the screening of Demons in Paradise, which it credited as a fruit of commitment, hard work and ingenuity in these terms:
“Reminiscing the hidden souvenirs of fighters and Tamil Tigers, he unveils the repressed memories of his compatriots, opening the door to a new era and making peace possible again.
“DEMONS IN PARADISE is the result of ten years of work. For the first time, a Tamil documentary filmmaker living in Sri Lanka is seeing the Civil war from the inside.”
Controversy about the film did not arise until it was scheduled for screening in Jaffna. Ilankai Thamil Sangam in New York on 25th May 2017 gave the film an introduction quoting from commendatory reviews, which would not have pleased LTTE supporters.
As regards screening in Jaffna, Jude says that Anomaa asked him for the film for last year’s festival and he told her that as the film was travelling globally, he would give it for this year’s festival, but he was not asked for the film this year. He adds, GIZ, an agency funding the festival had been told by the festival organisers that he did not want to screen the film in Jaffna; “it was only after queries from GIZ, to whom I had clarified that that was not the case and that I was more than willing to give the film, did she contact me directly to ask for the film.”
Controversy about the film arose, Jude wrote to the Festival Director Anomaa, when the BBC published a feature article on the film on 16th September 2018. The article gave an edited version of a statement he had made, not during the interview, but taken from the film. The ‘incognito Tamil media’ he said, used this as a pretext to create an uproar.
He clarified, “I reproduce here the statement I make within the context of the film: “When the war was coming to an end, I wanted the Tigers to lose the fight. The struggle we had begun, this madness, I wanted it to end, even if my own people had to be killed”.
“This I do after having established and justified the Tamil armed struggle during the first half of the film. Of course I negate it during the second half of the film according to the integral logic and laws of the film as my point of view (I needn’t reiterate that art and art objects and in this case cinema is a parallel universe with its own integral laws). It needs to be noted that I make this statement in the film not as someone outside of the Tamil community (as I’ve been accused of being a Tamil from the South), but as someone who had in my youth believed in the armed struggle.”
Similar reactions came from several Tamils who had been committed to the struggle, but had become disillusioned upon seeing the internal bloodletting; and especially its last years where the people were increasingly conscious of being held hostage under intensifying fire, as the Tigers’ last hope of a sordid bargain.
Based on what has been stated above, the primary responsibility for the removal of the film from the Jaffna Film Festival lies with the Festival Director. Dr. Raguram has been consistent and correct in what he said. He had a problem which he could have overcome, if he were a stronger man, after organised bad mouthing of the film by a disparate Tamil lobby that has a stranglehold on opinion in Jaffna.
A Facebook comment in Sinhalese based on conversations with Dr. Raguram said, “The reason we decided to remove the film from the initial list of films was that it only portrays the war or the struggle from the point of view of one side alone. We decided that a film that contains an idea of one side alone is not suitable for a film festival. How can we select a film of a filmmaker who had claimed that ‘I wanted to see the war end even if people die’? We accept without any doubt the right to express and the rights of Jude as a filmmaker. Nevertheless, we cannot recommend this film without understanding the emotional difficulties of the children whose parents have disappeared, the mothers and the fathers who had lost their children, when they see this film.”
An academic familiar with both Jaffna and Peradeniya Universities reacted to this, “Several events happen in Jaffna and other parts of the N&E regularly glorifying the LTTE and memorializing its heroes and achievements. Would Dr. Raguram ask their organizers stop those events because they are hurtful to the friends and families in the N&E of those who were killed and abducted by the LTTE? Aren’t those forgotten persons who fell victim to the LTTE’s senseless violence part of the society that Dr. Raguram and we live in? Doesn’t he know that most, if not all, of the Tamil nationalist events that happen in Jaffna and other parts of the N&E narrate only one side of the struggle?”
When this was read out to Dr. Raguram, he conceded that there was justice in what the academic said and that the issues need a much broader discussion. But that given the climate of opinion in Jaffna, showing Jude’s film might brand the Festival as pushing a particular line, and it may become difficult to continue with Film Festivals. It was pointed out to Raguram that on his own admission the public response to the Film Festivals was poor and unenthusiastic. Could it not be because the organisers were trying to be uncontroversial to the point of making the exercise lifeless? Raguram admitted that there was a point in that criticism.
As Festival Director Anomaa Rajakaruna who was responsible for the choice of the film Demons in Paradise for screening, says in her statement after it was dropped:
“[Jude] was reluctant to take the film to the location where a majority of the film was shot. One wonders why? Why was he reluctant to take his film there during the last 16 months?”
This is innuendo against Jude Ratnam and in bad taste. She should have shown greater loyalty and concern for a fellow countryman whose film had won wide acclaim with international awards. Any questions of this kind could have been discussed with him in person. The rest of Anomaa’s letter is equivocation which amounts to nitpicking.
Jude Ratnam stands by what the Festival Director said to him about the alleged petition to Dr. Raguram from scores of people, which Dr. Raguram denies.
The Tigers insisted that only their accredited spokesmen could speak to the World on behalf of the Tamils. Many peacemakers around the world fell in line. Is the attitude to Jude’s film a carryover from the days of the peace mafia and the monopoly of Tamil opinion it implied? Is the anger, and frequently envy, against Jude because he broke out of the hallowed circle?
The issues raised by these events urgently concern the future of the Tamils, the integrity of their institutions and their interaction with the rest of the world.
Compiled by Dr Rajan Hoole