Monumental moment! | Daily News
34th Sarasaviya Awards salutes to the legacy of Dr James Peries

Monumental moment!

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hands over a special award to Dr Lester James Peries’ wife, Sumitra Peries.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hands over a special award to Dr Lester James Peries’ wife, Sumitra Peries.

When the 45-year old journalist who had already made his career as a filmmaker entered Asoka Hall in 1964, he sensed the limelight. He was a mere Lester James Peries with no credentials to his name. Yet he could reach for many trophies with much ease. The limelight was soon to be in his favour.

The strange turn of fate brought another audience member who was only 20 years back then. 54 years later, he graced the occasion as the country’s Prime Minister to recall how things unfolded back then a few metres away from the conventional VIP lecture pedestal. The 34th Cargills Sarasaviya Film Festival, held at the BMICH on August 3, was themed to pay tribute to Dr Lester James Peries. Dr Peries is known not only for his meteoric rise to the ecclesiastical echelons of local cinema but also for the illumed presence right throughout the Sarasaviya Film Festival chronology.

The country’s oldest film festival returned to the stellar gallery following a brief spell of absence. The return was not easy as quite a few festivals have already joined the ring to steal the show. The Sarasaviya fest was nevertheless armed with superior weaponry. The cultural segments were choreographed meticulously with a subtle aesthetic sense. The souvenir issued to coincide with the ceremony remains unique and would last for at least a century. The 3D revival of Dr Peries bidding his farewell (with his voice aired in the background) is simply mind-boggling.

As two armchairs sink to the ground and the lampshades evaporate into thin air, the traditional ancestral mansion setting fades into oblivion to pave the path for contemporary upholstery on the BMICH stage. With that, the players come to the fore to breathe life into the much-celebrated short narrative which made a long way to the much-talked-about film, Nidanaya (The Treasure). The creative stimulus of Lester James Peries and Tissa Abeysekara was deconstructed into a ballet-like tale.

The souvenir was devoted to the memory of Dr Lester James Peries. It is unique on several grounds. The souvenir which is, in fact, a coffee-table book, compiled by Dr Nuvan Nayanajith Kumara and Hemali Wijeratne, provides a comprehensive account of the Lester James Peries filmography with no eye-sore advertisements in between. In his lifetime, Dr Peries often stressed the need for a film archive. The coffee-table book is one step taken in that long journey.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, flanked by other eminent invitees, presented a special award to Sumitra Peries for her lifelong inspiration on Dr Lester James Peries in his epic journey.

The panel of judges (chaired by Gamini Weragama) was tasked with watching close to 50 films to handpick the best works of 2016 and 2017. The Sarasaviya 2018 had a special focus on most films overlooked at other festivals. Sayapethi Kusuma, Dekala Purudu Kenek and Bahuchitavadiya were among the host of lesser known, yet artistically ingenious, works introduced to the spotlight thanks to the jury attention.

The award for Best Actor for 2016 went to Dasun Pathirana and Best Actress for 2016 to Pooja Umashankar who received their awards from Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Samanali Fonseka was adjudged the Best Actress for 2017 and Saumya Liyanage was Best Actor for 2017. Boodee Keerthisena accepted the award on behalf of Liyanage.

Media and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Deputy Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Managing Director of Cargills Ranjit Page, ANCL Chairman Krishantha Prasad Cooray, Editorial Director Chandrasiri Seneviratne and Sarasaviya Editor Aruna Gunaratne were present.

The Cargills Sarasaviya Film Awards was organised by ‘Sarasaviya’, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited’s cinema weekly, with Cargills, Sri Lanka’s leading retail and FMCG company.

Pictures by Chinthaka Kumarasinghe, Tilak Perera, Marlon Karunaratne, Rukmal Gamage, Samantha Weerasinghe, Vipula Amarasinghe, Saliya Rupasinghe, Shan Ruppasara, Shan Rambukwella and Nisshanka Wijeratne

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