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Vision and the mission of a filmmaker :

The philosophy behind the language of cinema

In a wide ranging interview, Vishvanath Buddhika Keerthisena or Boodee Keerthisena spells out his vision and philosophy behind filmmaking which is highly influenced by his film education in the USA. Boodeee studied cinema at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He presented his feature film Veils of Maya (Sihina Deshayen - 1993) as his thesis. The film won 31 awards in many festivals including Best Director and Best Film.

In 1997 he started shooting Buongiorno Italia (Mille Soya) and completed its shooting in Sri Lanka and Italy with a crew from 8 different countries. The film was released in 2004 and was screened at 16 festivals and won 15 awards including best picture and best director.

In 2008 he co-wrote the screenplay and directed Alone in A Valley (Nimnayaka Hudakalawa).

From 2009-2010 he directed Matha, a film based on the largest humanitarian rescue in the recent history of the world. In film Matha, Boodee displays his mature craft and cinematic language with its overarching Hollywood influence.


Boodee Keerthisena

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Since your first film, the groundbreaking 'Veils of Maya,' where do you see yourself now in terms of your cinematic language?

Answer: Wow! It’s a difficult question for me…cause, its like asking someone who is going to a university, what did you learn this year? And they would say, “nothing really”. Then the 2nd year you ask the same person the same question again, and she or he would say, “Well…last year we learnt this and this and this year…we didn’t learn much”. So, on 3rd year you ask the same person the same question and they would say…”Gee…last two years were great and this year kind of sucks”. On fourth year you repeat the same question and answer would be similarly…”Yeah last three years were better than this year…” So when you ask me where I stand…even though I feel I have not learnt much…but without knowing I have evolved…my language probably has evolved. I don’t know if it is better or for worse…but it has evolved.

Propaganda

Q: Do you view cinema more as pure entertainment or a tool for both social reform and propaganda.

A: For me cinema is entertainment and also knowledge rather than a Training propaganda tool…yeah but one can very well use it in both ways.

Q: How influential has your education in the United States been on your film making process and skills?

A: It has been very influential in my film making. I mean don’t forget that just because I went to a university in New York City, we have been thought only by American cinema. Of course American cinema of John Ford, Woody Allen, David Lynch and even Blake Edwards has been a great influence in my work, at the same time great Passolini, Fellini, Andre Tharkovesky, Fasbinder, Hertzog they have all been an influence, cause we as students studied their films very closely as well. I went to America after seeing many great movies by Darmasena Pathiraja, vasantha Obesekara, and Lester James Peries.

Although I discovered Jim Jarmush in America, when I first watch Jarmush movies like “Stranger Than Paradise” and Down by Law” it reminded me the great cinema by Darmasena Pathiraja, I saw his “Paradige” and “Ahas Gauwa” in some of those Jarmush movies. So yes…I think when u learn filmmaking in a place like Manhattan, your skills of film making gets a great contribution from cinema from around the world. And I like it.

Q: Would you encourage young Sri Lankan film students to follow your footsteps and study in the U.S.? Or do you think that they would be better served by learning the trade by apprenticing experienced directors working in Sri Lanka and attending the Sri Lanka Television Training Institute for instance.

A: Well it’s like this, Sri Lanka is an amazing place to find your unique stories and topics…there are areas still virgin areas that Sri Lankan filmmakers haven’t covered yet, like Horror, Sci-fi, teen movies, feel good movies, and many more.

I would say if one has the passion to work in cinema, it is worth while educating themselves with the medium, yes if one is serious about it, better learn the craft at state of the art institute or a university. Since Sri Lanka does not have any proper film institute, it’s better to go to a country where there are really cool film schools.

Manhattan would be a great place, because of its diversified culture and it is one of the few cities that never sleep.

It is a city full of different kinds of art culture, theater, dance, painting, photography, video art, fashion, poetry, literature, and different kinds of street artists, and film is made out of all these and yes it would be a better place to study film over there, but I wouldn’t call it following my “footsteps” though.

Q: Having started your film career as a cutting edge director fresh from New York City, you have now, with your latest film 'Matha,' become more mainstream and commercial? Why is this?

A: First of all, let me be clear on this, before releasing Matha and people’s reactions, I wouldn’t know if it is main stream or what not. But it surely is different to all of my other work, and also, all of my other work is different to each other, cause I like to make each film different to the other. It is hard sometimes, but I like the challenge.

Q: I would like to ask you the same question I asked the composer of Matha, as to why he accepted the project, was it the story line or the contract fee?

A: There are many reasons to why, I undertook this project. I always wanted to do a war movie. I have been a fan of war movies since I was a kid. War is one of my three favorite genera’s. War, Sci-fi, and fantasy, are generas that I would like to work in.

And the other main reason was, as a Sri Lankan I have had very shocking and very hard experiences of the war, just as much as many other Sri Lankans. So when I was offered this project I thought it would be a great way to tell a human drama through the war.

It’s a challenge I undertook and it was a dream. War is not a category that every director gets offered in the world, even though it is a dream of many directors to make a war film. It also gave me a chance to show the brutality, and horror of terrorism and how it could affect a society and how it could affect an individual.

We spent one hundred and twenty ( 120 ) days on the shoot and it took me more than eight hundred ( 800 ) days to complete the film, with combination of local, Hollywood and Bollywood talent.

It even gave me a chance to pay a homage or tribute, you could call it whatever, and it gave me the chance to pay homage to Mr. Steven Spielberg in the scene what me and my editor Stephen Philipson call “SPR” or Saving Privet Ryan scene where we had a navy SBS beach landing battle scene in the film.

Brutality

Q: Judging from the theatrical trailer of Matha, it seems like it is all about brutality, Sri Lankan killing Sri Lankan and property destruction, these are the realities we have lived with for the last three decades, is there anything new or another angle in the film for us that you would like to talk about?

A: Oh! Man! That’s the blame I get from everyone all over, even in Facebook. See, I had absolutely nothing to do with the theatrical trailer. It was done by a fellow theatre, TV and film director, but not me. So I really have nothing to do with the trailer publicity.

Q: Coming back to the trailer, when the most successful trailers in the world are not more than 90 to 140 seconds long, why did you take a record breaking 420 seconds, it would almost seem like you were purposely giving away all of the most exciting parts of your film, is this a new trend of trailer making?

Marketing

A: Well, you see when the first need came for a trailer, two of my assistants put together a trailer which is about 140 seconds long, which is on “vimeo” and anyone can see it, the link is http://vimeo.com/25776459. I showed this the director who cut the trailer, but what’s in the theaters now is what was finally done.

So Ranga they might have made it for marketing purposes, which I am not really involved in.

So either way I am not responsible for the promotion and the advertising of the film. Usually the advertising team would talk to the director consult him before they go forward, but I am sure there are cases like this one where they would not consult the director.

Q: Tell us something about the producers of this film.

A: Matha is produced by three producers, and they are Mr.Ruwan Jayasinghe, Mr. Sanath Lanka Ranaweera, and Mr. Wijaya Rtnayeka. Mr. Ruwan Jayasinghe has produced number of TV series, including Jayantha Chandrasiri’s “Sathara denek Senpathiyo”.

Q: As a respected award winning film director, what are the standards you apply when you choose producers, other than the fact they have some money?

A: Well the first thing is, what they call a producer in Sri Lanka is way too different to the countries who are very advanced in their filmmaking. In places like Hollywood and Bollywood, who are considered executive producers (Funders or people who secure money for the production) are called producers in Sri Lanka most of the times. Because when we were working on “Kusa-Paba”, the guild members chose Somartne dissanayeka as the executive producer and to me the work load he was to do, looked like he was the “Producer”.

So I tried to correct the terminology, as that he is the producer, but you all are the executive producers, but they didn’t like the idea of it and the title to be called that way. So I suppose they have a different protocol to other film industries around the world. Other than that, a producer should believe in the project, since he is the one who is putting it together, and must have a very good relationship, especially with the director.

Script

Q: How about writers, how selective are you with who you work with and how important to the film do you think the script is?

A: Well if one decides to work with a scriptwriter other than the director him or herself, once screenwriter finish the screenplay, will give it to the director. From there on the writer would let the director interpret the screenplay according to the director’s imagination. Most of the time they would talk to each other and exchange ideas if there are specific scenes to be done in a specific way. Usually it’s directors call.

I have done projects without a complete screenplay as well. You can do it by improvising some times. I have also collaborated with other people and co-wrote screenplays such as Alone in a valley or Nimnayaka Hudakalawa.

Q: How about the writer of Matha, how close did you work with him on the script?

A: Well the case in Matha was different, Matha was completely written by the writer Dr. Athugala. But I was with him since the beginning of the screenplay. Dr. Athugala invited me to work on this project as the director. When the screenplay was being written, I was there with him time to time, we discussed about some scenes and how and why some scenes should be there.

Consultation

Q: Is it true that you edited a lot of the script, and if so, why?

A: Obviously we had to change some scenes when I was shooting, due to many reasons, sometimes, some scenes were not practical when we are at the actual location with the cast, then I would speak to Dr.Athugala on the phone and change. Whenever I could, I always consulted the writer before we changed. Sometimes Due to weather and due to unavailability of certain things, we had to change. Then when you work with an editor, some things that you have shot might not work anymore, so then some scenes gets taken out.

When the length is too much, scenes get taken out. That’s not just in Matha, but these kind of changes happen in many films around the world, cause it is a part of film making. But usually director can take out any scenes if he or she wants to make the movie right, that's the normal practice around the world. Unless otherwise, they will allow a "directors cut" as many directors practice that.

Q: Would you like to comment on any other aspect of Matha?

A: I think finally and professionally first time in Sri Lanka we have introduced VFX Visual effects from computers in Matha. Elephant and the Mouse, my own company with our own VFX team we managed to finish nearly about 340 VFX shots. I mean that’s a lot, some time in a movie like Transformers would have around 350 VFX shots. Also most of SFX (Special effects on set) was done by some of my friends from Hollywood, who have worked with filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, John Woo and many other professionals. We actually gave a boost to Sri Lankas VFX industry through Matha.

Q: What are you currently working on?

A: I am trying to finish the movie that I started way before Matha, and also Sri Lanka’s first Digital medium feature film professionally done, Nimnayaka Hudakalawa. We are doing the VFX works of that film. Other than that I am trying to get producers to start one of the three projects I am looking for investors for. One of them is a Fantasy.

Magic question

Q: What are your predictions on the future of Sri Lankan cinema?

A: The magic question, you know Ranga if I know the answer to that, I would be a very happening director by now.

Q: Can you name some new up and coming Sri Lankan directors who you think we should be paying attention to?

A: You know what, I have come across a few young powerfull filmmakers who are very active in Facebook and they are actually doing some interesting work. I hope those guys would get to places soon.

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