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Aksharaya: anatomy of a controversy

Handagama after receiving awards for his film Thani Thatuwen Piyabanna

An email sent to international film industry professionals interested in Sri Lankan film was circulated on May 1, asking to band together to protect freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

The film co-produced by French Heliotrope Films and Be-Positive of Sri Lanka concerns a prestigious family that is shaken after their 12 year old son (Izam. Samzudeen) is involved accidentally in the murder of a prostitute.

The affair causes a sensation, all the more as the boy's mother, a magistrate (Piyumi Samaraweera), happens to be in charge of the case.

The boy is given shelter by a security guard (Saumya Liyanage) of a museum.

Through media interviews on TV, the boy witnesses his mother giving instructions to the police to apprehend the murderer. This event impacts the psychological balance of the boy.

He losses faith in his overprotective mother and becomes attached to the guard's daughter.

The tension reaches a peak when, in a moment of cathartic confession, the mother reveals the secrets of her family's morbid past. 'A Letter of Fire' was in competition at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2005.

The prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival called the film, "A powerful melodrama by an unclassifiable moviemaker."

Handagama who has won several national and international awards for earlier films May Magay Sandai ('This is My Moon') and Thani Thatuwen Piyabanna ('Flying with One Wing') said that Aksharaya had already received formal approval from the Public Performance Board (PPB) but other non-related authorities of the film sector in Sri Lanka wanted to stop the movie.

Handagama claimed that at first, the film was to be released with an "adults only" rating but now Government authorities were denying him the copy of his release print.

"Film Corporation authorities unnecessarily held back release of my print and the certificate necessary for distribution of the film, Handagama said. "I received information that the Cultural Affairs Ministry and the Women's Affairs Ministry are trying their best to ban the film - using several tactics now."

"This is a violation of freedom of expression, right to information and all other nationally and internationally guaranteed declarations relating to human rights," Handagama added.




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