Vethanayagam Thevananth, Hon. President, Federation of Jaffna District Non-Governmental Organizations
After the war came to an end, Projects utilizing arts to create reconciliation, and for the purpose of creating peace are being undertaken on a large scale.
All these projects had been found to be plans prepared with an esteemed purpose of empowering the people affected by war and project designed for that purpose. But, if we ask the question whether this target was achieved?, the answer received will a firm “No”. It could be said that, neither any structured evaluation nor research had been undertaken to find out the reason for this failure.
After war had ended, several National and international events are being held in the North, particularly in Kilinochchi and Jaffna in sectors such as Art, Sports, commerce and Education. Each of these projects are being undertaken at an expense of several hundred Millions.
The affected people could become the owners and partners of the above said massive events, only if, more attention is paid on Re-construction of an area affected by war and the ability and capacity of the affected community is increased. In this context, first of all efforts should be made for reconstruction and resurgence of the affected people. The activities for finding things lost in the war, preserving and developing them had to be undertaken. This will require Long time, dedication and expenditure of funds. Only when these are taken into consideration, we can secure opportunities for a society to get revived and develop.
In this context, we present below our opinion, regarding the International Film Festival – Jaffna,Jaffna that is being held currently, on the basis of our observations of Art – Related National Festivals that were held in the Northern Area. Here we must mention here two Large scale project that were undertaken in the Past.
- Jaffna Music Festival
- Wings Art for Reconciliation programme (WINGs)
Several Donor Organizations, International Organizations and the Embassies of Foreign countries had contributed large amounts of monies for Arts related services, for empowering the people affected by the Sri Lankan Civil war. It is obvious that no Organization related to the affected Communities had received these large funds. On the contrary, Organizations centered on Colombo are receiving these Funds.
Thus several hundred millions had been expended in the last 5 years. Local communities should have benefited from such projects. When such events are held in an area at such large expenditure, it is expected that at least the local economy should benefit from them. Economic Specialists say that, this benefits could be achieved through, especially, through the Trickled Down Economic Process. But as far as the Jaffna and Northern areas are concerned, it could be said that even this economical benefit had not been received at the times of the National festivals being held in Jaffna. All economical benefits were planned with Colombo as the Centre. They were executed and are being executed now, with an intention that all economical benefits should reach the south.
Transparency and accountability are not found relevant to these large scale projects. All the same, the Northerners who were affected are neither linked as partners nor not given opportunity to claim ownership of the projects. On the contrary, some of the affected communities are hired as mere coolies. They try to show them as partners. Because of this the chances of developing the abilities and capacities is of our areas are being lost. Meanwhile, it is also observable that even the physical resources are not improved.
The above said massive and Arts – related projects are ones which were staged at an expense of several hundred Million Rupees. Among these, the WINGS project, with a slogan of “Inter- racial Reconciliation through Arts” was staged the Financial Assistance of the European Union. It was announced through media that 270 Million Rupees were spent for this event. Out of this only around five to ten percent had been spent in North and East. The balance 90 percent had been spent centering on Colombo. This project is a good example to clarify the matters we have given above.
Reconciliation is an act that should be undertaken after lending a hand and picking up a person who is affected and at a low level and bringing him up to his routine state. It’s a comical act in Sri Lanka, that this process is carried out in an ‘upside down’ way. While the affected person remain at the same state, create an imaginary appearance that the affected person is in his routine state, keep the affected in an equal position and compel him to approach the project on a competition basis. In this competition with an appearance that, it is held between two persons, who are at this equal positions, the sorrow of, the project getting biased to make the Southern society which is already in its routine state and strong position benefits from it, occurring. Particularly, they are implementing Regional Plans which centers on Colombo.
Reconciliation Activity could be defined as that in which two factions which are at equal position standing on planes of equal heights and shaking hands. You cannot speak about reconciliation and equal opportunity, with one person standing on a higher position and one in a lower position.
In this inequable environment, the Southern Society which remained in its routine state, un-affected by war, is grabbing the resources which are available here and there, through its dominant and well equipped capacity and skill.
They show or attempt to show that their projects are successful by hiring agents to create an image that their projects are biased towards affected people. In truth the affected people continued to remain as affected. The Federation of Non- Governmental Agencies, which consists of 28 members, had always condemned this situation. it had continued to register its opposition.
Hence, it is un-avoidable that we always subject to criticizing, view with suspicion and register our opposition, the implementation of projects which will make the society which was not affected by war benefits in the name of the people who were affected really by the war.
We cordially request the Fund Donor Establishments, International Non Government Organizations, UN organizations and High Commissions which implement these projects, to take the above into their attention. We request to avoid encouraging this kind of projects and encourage projects that will make the affected people to benefit. It should be kept in mind that, there is nothing wrong in an affected Society expecting to be a true partner in a project related to him and wanting to claim ownership on that project.
It is in this back ground that the Jaffna International Film Festival which is being held with the support of the Fund Donor Organizations, High Commissions of several European countries and International Organizations, had to be viewed.
It is appropriate that, the Organizations and Individuals in Jaffna plan, claim and hold Jaffna International Film Festival. Rather than being the hirelings who just implement what is planned in Colombo, this should be transformed into an event that is planned and conducted by themselves. Through this only the growth of the Sri Lankan Tamil Cinema could be made possible.
Our Cinema tradition could be contemporarily identified with the more than 80 years long cinema history of Tamil Nadu. Particularly, after starting on the basis of consumption, it had evolved to be producing films on our own. Unique efforts had been made in sixties and seventies and several films had been produced. But because of the war this continuity had been blocked and the “ Sri Lanka Cinema” was identified just as “ Sinhala Cinema”.
As an extension to this identification,
It had to be considered futile that the efforts related to the production of cinema being planned with Colombo as the centre, which will be a stumbling blockade for producing fertile seeds for the growth of Eelam Tamil Cinema.
Meanwhile, it should be kept in mind that the Cinema related efforts which were undertaken during the war period, especially several films and short films which were produced with an attitude of “we ourselves producing films for ourselves” were completely stagnated.
We consider that, the Jaffna International Film festival which is held with a resource gathering on a grand scale, should constitute the chance for growing from and as a continuation of the efforts of the seventies and the efforts of the war period
On the contrary, we should understand that this is not possible when the process of completely Colombo based planning and they themselves collecting the resources are happening. We have a reasonable doubt whether, the Jaffna International Film Festival is for strengthening the identity “Sri Lanka Cinema is Sinhala Cinema”. That is why we are thinking that, the Jaffna International Film festival should be planned in way to be nutritious to Eelam Tamil Cinema. Accordingly it should be with local characteristics. This Film Festival which is now found within a limited circle should transform into a big circle. If such a situation arises, the inappropriateness which surrounds the holding of the Festival during “Thiyaga Theepam” (Sacrificial Flame) Thileepan commemoration week will be eliminated, we think.
WE request that the Fund Donors International establishments and High Commissions of foreign countries which provide support for this Festival should cooperate to hold the Jaffna Film Festival, as a Film festival of the Northern people. Let us all will work hard to create a conducive situation for this festival to be held with the true participation of local organizations and their ownership claiming. Projects should be designed with transparency and accountability for this.
We request that, unlike the current situation where individuals or individual organizations reaping the benefits and unlike the current way it is held, where connections with the public is non existent, it should be transformed into a people’s festival which could develop the capacity and skills as appropriate to the resurgence of Eelam Tamil Cinema.