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Sri Lankan Cinema in Crisis: ‘It’s Beyond Anyone’s Comprehension How Much of the Industry Will Survive’

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The old president has fled, the new one is just as unpopular, and a state of emergency is in place as Sri Lanka weathers the worst economic crisis in its history.

The island nation known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean — where films like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Tarzan, the Ape Man” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” were shot on location — has been through some extraordinary times in recent weeks.

In the last year, the government’s economic mismanagement has precipitated a foreign currency and agricultural crisis that has led to shortages of medicine, fuel and basic food staples amid a 50% rise in inflation. The country declared bankruptcy earlier this month. While the impact to local film and TV production isn’t high on the priority list amid a looming famine, Sri Lankan industry insiders say it will take years for the creative sector to recover.

“It’s impossible to even fathom a timeline for the country to return to normal — or the survival of the film and TV industry during that time. Economists predict it’ll be at least three to four years before the country can breathe easy. It’s beyond anyone’s comprehension how much of the industry will survive until that moment,” explains Kalpana Ariyawansa, co-director of “Dirty, Yellow, Darkness” (2015).

For the moment, inflation and the depreciation of the Sri Lankan rupee has increased production costs tenfold.

Costs for catering, lodging and equipment rentals have risen massively from pre-pandemic days, and with a dearth of foreign currency, imports have been limited to essential items. Meanwhile, a massive shortage of fuel, cooking gas and prolonged power cuts have also hit the industry hard.

The precarious economic situation prompted mass anti-government protests that ultimately led to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa being toppled last week. He fled to the Maldives and then to Singapore. On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe — whose home was set on fire by protestors just weeks ago — was elected president. Observers say the election of Wickremesinghe, who has served as the country’s prime minister six times already, could lead to more protests as he is considered close to the Rajapaksa family, whom the general public hold squarely responsible for Sri Lanka’s current woes.

The nation isn’t new to crisis as it was ravaged by a civil war from 1983 to 2009. During this period, the film industry declined as people stayed away from cinemas and television viewership rose. There was a recovery of sorts as the war drew to a close, with a new generation of filmmakers earning international acclaim, including Vimukthi Jayasundara, whose “The Forsaken Land” (2005) won the Caméra d’Or at Cannes. After the war, film production marginally improved with 30-40 films being produced annually, but with the twin blows of COVID-19 and the economic crisis, this slowed to around 10.

“The industry was merely surviving: just hanging by a thread,” says Jayasundara, who adds that the sector has also suffered from insufficient investment into a digital infrastructure. “The National Film Corporation has a monopoly on the distribution of films. It has not been privatized, like the other sectors of the country.”

The Sri Lankan film industry hasn’t had a national policy since 1956, despite cinema dictating the entertainment market, adds the director. The popularization of television from the 1980s, he argues, has seen the gradual “downfall of the film industry.”

“Although Sri Lanka has an open economy, our cinema is ‘closed’ due to outdated policies and lack of attractions for new investments: Sri Lanka has no special treaty or co-production agreements with any other countries,” adds Jayasundara.


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Ariyawansa agrees that Sri Lankan cinema has been on a steady decline for more than 20 years, and with an ever-shrinking theater count, return on investment for big-budgeted movies is a long shot. As a result, mini- and micro-budgeted films with no real production values have mushroomed and are released in their dozens, without making a significant run at the box office.

Concurrently, international films such as Tamil-language titles from neighboring India and Hollywood blockbusters have begun to enjoy better theatrical runs than local releases, despite being released in a limited number of theaters, Ariyawansa adds.

“Though the pandemic put a substantial dent to the industry, it’s fair to say it wasn’t beating expectations before,” says Ariyawansa.

Despite the mordant local industry, high profile international productions have continued to use Sri Lanka as a location. Recent projects include Michael Winterbottom’s “Greed,” Deepa Mehta’s “Funny Boy,” Tiger Aspect/ITV series “The Good Karma Hospital” and Indian drama “800,” a biopic of Sri Lankan cricketer Muthiah Muralidaran. However, it’s unlikely that international productions will return soon and local productions are stalled as well.

Actor Nimmi Harasgama, who is also a writer and producer, starred in both “The Good Karma Hospital” and “Funny Boy,” and won awards for Prasanna Vithanage’s “Flowers in the Sky” and “August Sun.” She’s had no work in Sri Lanka this year.

“A number of productions have either been canceled, come to a standstill, or are waiting to see how the situation develops before making decisions on whether to film here,” Harasgama says. Her projects in Sri Lanka are focused on raising awareness about the current situation. She’s also fundraising for a short film she’s written, while rehearsing a monologue that will be released online.

After the box office success of his last film “Little Miss Puppet,” Ariyawansa was due to start his new film in September, but has now shelved the project. Similarly, Jayasundara was due to begin shooting his Sri Lanka-France co-production “Turtle’s Gaze on Spying Stars” in August but has indefinitely postponed the film. Meanwhile, “Funny Boy” lead Rehan Mudannayake has also struggled with disrupted Sri Lankan projects.

“As an actor, many of the Sri Lankan films I’ve been cast in have been shelved with no start date in sight,” he says. “The remainder of my acting and directing work has been U.K.-based, and has not been affected by the crisis.”

Mudannayake wrote and directed the British-Sri Lankan short film “So Long, Farewell,” which provides a glimpse into the South Asian diaspora experience.

While there was once hope for the industry emerging from the pandemic, the extent of the economic crisis is throwing doubt on a recovery anytime soon.

“We had many discussions with the hope of rebooting the film industry,” says Jayasundara, “but now, under the present circumstances, we find the implementation of those solutions quite problematic as we do not know whether those plans are practically possible anymore.”

An all but absent cinema industry amid the backdrop of political and economic bankruptcy makes it “difficult to use the term ‘normal,’” adds the director, “because we don’t know when things will return back to ‘normal’ anymore. At the moment, our ‘new normal’ is ‘uncertainty’ because at this juncture, no one is sure whether new investments are possible or not.”

While a renewed streaming drive could have once served as an avenue for cinema, even under trying conditions, it’s unclear where the financial support for such ventures will come from. “Who is going to do it? Who’s going to take it? There is no indication,” says Raj Kajendra, who produced the Tamil-language Sri Lankan film “Mann.”

“The understanding is that the current constitution has failed the people,” says Harasgama.

“Once a new constitution is in place, it would be a good time to also reassess the unrealized potential that exists in the film and TV industry,” Harasgama adds. “Tax incentives and tax breaks in line with those provided by other countries would assist filmmakers and production companies when pitching international productions. The film and TV industry is a valuable, viable economic asset that only needs a little assistance in order to take off.”

Mudannayake also suggests funding schemes for fledgling directors, which would be “a definite game changer” for the industry.

“Attracting more international productions, too, is key, but for this to be successful, we have to cut out the red tape,” says the actor-director. “A system of tax rebates, whereby Sri Lanka offers a percentage return on the film being made, regardless of profits, is essential.”

Ariyawansa adds: “History clearly shows that, though humans were never good at prevention, they were always good at adaptation. That’s what keeping me optimistic despite everything that already happened and will happen, because the film and TV industry will also adapt to whatever the future may bring, and find a recovery path.”



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Oprah Winfrey Shares the Greatest Lesson She Took From Her 25-Year Talk Show: ‘We Want to Know We Matter’

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Oprah Winfrey delivered an inspiring speech to close out Variety’s Power of Women dinner, presented by Lifetime. Winfrey was honored at the event alongside her “Queen Sugar” partner Ava DuVernay, both of whom turned the OWN series into a launching pad for female directors. Winfrey championed “Queen Sugar” for “defining the OWN network” and for “reflecting black families.”

“We are all looking for the same thing,” Winfrey said. “This is the one lesson I came away from doing ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ The common denominator of our experiences is that we all want to know that we matter and we want a show that reflects our values.”

Winfrey was introduced by DuVernay, who spoke about their experience creating the OWN drama series “Queen Sugar,” which made history with the duo’s decision to exclusively hire women to direct the series’ 7-season, 88-episode run. The show employed 42 women directors, seven of whom — Shaz Bennett, Kat Candler, Patricia Cardoso, DeMane Davis, Aurora Guerrero, Stacey Muhammad and Victoria Mahoney — walked the red carpet in solidarity with Winfrey and DuVernay and still more “Queen Sugar” helmers took the stage before Winfrey gave her rousing speech.

“It’s groundbreaking what they’ve done,” Winfrey said of the show’s directors. “When I came back from opening my school, I was sitting with Maya Angelou and I said, ‘Maya, oh my God, you should have been there for the opening of the school because that school is going to be my greatest legacy.’ She said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy is going to be.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I think it’s really gonna be those girls.’ And she said, ‘I said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy is going to be because your legacy is never one thing. Your legacy is every life you touch.’ And so I think of every story, every show, every life that has been touched because of the idea that [Ava] had [to hire women directors].”

In their Power of Women cover story, Winfrey and DuVernay discussed the origins of their daring “Queen Sugar” mandate.

“I remember getting the call from Ava saying, ‘I have this idea: What if we just have all women directors?’” Winfrey said. “I go, ‘All women directors? Can we do that?’ Ava goes, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”

DuVernay chimed in, “Because you own the network.”

In DuVernay’s estimation, Winfrey’s OWN was key to making this work. 

“These were all real things that we heard: ‘It won’t last.’ ‘There aren’t enough women directors to do it.’ ‘This is just a fluke,’” DuVernay recalled. “But seven seasons later, this has become a real movement in episodic directing that will reverberate through our industry for many years to come.”

With the seventh and final season of “Queen Sugar” underway on OWN, the pair also examined the show’s legacy.

“The fact that this is the longest-running dramatic television series that centers a Black family really says something about the state of American television over the history of the medium,” DuVernay shared.

Noting the dearth of these dramas, she added: “We have to ask: ‘Why has this not happened? Why has this not been launched and nurtured? Why has it not been seen and celebrated?’ These are all questions that I think our industry should be looking at. As ‘Queen Sugar’ goes away, what’s in its place?”



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10 Best Movies for New Couples To Watch Together

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Movies are a great way for couples to strengthen a budding relationship with their partner, whether it’s a horror film like Jordan Peele’s Nope or a heartwarming animated adventure like Pixar’s Lightyear. Through movies, new couples can spend some good quality time together while watching interesting characters discover themselves, go on exciting adventures, and find true love.


From the romantic comedy film Begin Again to the jukebox musical movie Mamma Mia!, there are some movies that are best enjoyed by couples who have just started their romantic journey together.

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Begin Again (2013)

Stream On Netflix

There’s a harmonious balance between music and drama in the 2013 film Begin Again. In the movie, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a successful record label executive who is way past his prime, tries to sign a budding songwriter from England named Gretta James (Keira Knightley).

The movie has won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Lost Stars, which is arguably one of the most romantic songs in film history. Even though the film does not feature a romantic relationship between its two leads, new couples will surely relate to the dynamic of the main characters who try their best to help each other with their personal woes.

The Notebook (2004)

Stream On Netflix & HBO Max

Based on a novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook is a movie about a couple who lose touch early in their relationship but later again to continue their romance. The movie’s lead roles are played by Hollywood icons Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.

The movie might have been riddled with melodramatic clichés, but there’s no doubt that the film will surely make new couples feel warm inside. The two stars give an astounding and inspiring performance as a couple to boot. In fact, some movie buffs consider Gosling and McAdams’ pairing as one of the best examples of effective on-screen chemistry in film.

Happy Death Day (2017)

Stream On FuboTV & FXNow

Jessica Rothe and Ruby Modine in Happy Death Day

Slasher films are a great movie genre for couples who like a little thrill in their lives. In Happy Death Day, a college student named Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) finds out that she’s stuck in a time loop that resets whenever she dies. Unfortunately for her, she’s stuck with a murderer hiding behind a baby mask in the time loop.

Happy Death Day attempts to shake up the slasher genre by putting a fun sci-fi spin on its story, which will surprise couples who want to see a thrilling flick together. Couples who want to find out what happens to Tree after the events of the movie can also watch its sequel together, Happy Death Day 2U, making for a thrilling date night.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Stream On Starz

The popular jukebox musical by Catherine Johnson finally makes it to the silver screen with the 2008 movie adaptation of the same name. The movie features an endearing story between a bride-to-be, her mom, and her three presumed fathers. The movie also has some of the catchiest songs from the beloved Swedish pop group ABBA.

Mamma Mia! is an accessible film for couples that want to get into musicals together due to its heartwarming story and iconic pop songs. While the film does get some flack for its campy tone and underwhelming vocals, many viewers still found it a fun movie to watch and even consider it better than the original stage show.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Stream On Tubi

Lost In Translation

Directed by Sofia Coppola, Lost In Translation follows a movie star played by Bill Murray, who travels to Japan to take a job as his spotlight has dimmed. There, he meets a college graduate, played by Scarlett Johansson, and the two eventually start a friendship.

The movie touches on topics like cultural displacement, alienation, and loneliness – heavy themes that new couples might find interesting to discuss and dissect. Couples might also relate to Lost In Translation as it explores a novel connection between an unlikely pair. Despite the melancholic atmosphere of Lost In Translation, Coppola is still able to imbue the film with tender humor, allowing the viewers to laugh at the characters’ plights while also empathizing with them.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Stream On Starz

Steve Carell on The 40-Year-Old Virgin poster

Judd Apatow has directed a lot of comedy films, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin remains one of his most popular flicks. The movie follows Andy (Steve Carell), an electronics store employee and the titular virgin who receives help from his friends in order to find a woman he likes and finally lose his virgin status.

Andy meets and starts dating a customer named Trish (Catherine Keener). The movie received a lot of praise for the excellent performance of its cast, sweet narrative, and incredibly likable characters. New couples looking for a fun movie to watch will surely laugh together at Andy’s antics and sympathize with his woes.

Couples Retreat (2009)

Stream On Peacock Premium, DIRECTV, & Sling

Couples Retreat is a fun comedy film for couples who are looking for gut-busting movie sequences and sizzling one-liners. The movie showcases four couples who are all riddled with their own problems and issues, and in one couple’s attempt to save their marriage, they invited the other three pairs to a couples resort therapy named Eden.

The movie features a stellar cast with actors like Jon Favreau, Kristen Bell, and Vince Vaughn, all of whom have supreme comedic chops and can easily make couples laugh with the way they deliver their hilarious lines. Couples Retreat can provide new couples with an insightful look at the issues they might face in the long term.

Iron Man (2008)

Stream On Disney+

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s phase one started with the 2008 superhero film Iron Man. The movie explores how Tony Stark started his superhero journey and became one of the most recognizable superhero characters in film history.

Iron Man was received warmly for its impressive special effects, for its strong lead actor, and for successfully reinvigorating the superhero movie genre. The film is a great introduction to the wide world of comic book films and couples who find themselves interested in the MCU thanks to Iron Man can enjoy the best films the MCU has to offer.

A Star Is Born (2018)

Available To Rent On Amazon Prime Video

The most recent iteration of the 1937 romance film A Star Is Born stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the lead roles. The movie is about the romance between a famous musician who suffers from alcohol addiction and a young singer who soon finds mainstream success.

The movie showcases an enlightening performance from Gaga, who shows that she’s more than just a pop star. It’s also a good pick for couples who want to watch a movie together as it features the beginning and tragic end of a beautiful but strained relationship. The movie received several Academy Awards nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Gaga.

Your Name (2016)

Available To Rent On Amazon Prime Video

Makoto Shinkai is a Japanese animator and filmmaker who’s most known for his sentimental films. His 2016 film Your Name is about two teenagers in different timelines who inexplicably switch bodies. Because of their predicament, they also form a connection and bond.

The movie’s animation is breathtaking and Shinkai manages to entertain audiences with its endearing tale about destiny, youth, and tradition. Your Name is a good introduction for couples who want to veer away from what Hollywood offers and explore the vibrant world of Japanese animation.

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Elizabeth Olsen Says Her Next Battle Is Fighting Sexual Abuse on the Internet

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Elizabeth Olsen may save the day in Marvel films, but on Wednesday evening she highlighted her own hero: Gail Abarbanel, the founder and director of the Rape Foundation and Stuart House.

In her speech at Variety’s Power of Women event presented by Lifetime, Olsen spoke passionately about Abarbanel, also in attendance, and the Los Angeles organization that the activist founded nearly five decades ago.

“When I learned about tonight, I asked Gail if there is anything that she would like to do next with the foundation, because in my mind she’s already thought of everything. She said, ‘Yes, to stop sexual abuse on the internet,’” Olsen said. “To me that sounded very, very big and maybe impossible. But if you were to ask her what she wanted to create in 1974, I think that would have also sounded just as big and impossible.”

Olsen recalled her first meeting with Abarbanel, who founded Stuart House after recognizing how poor support networks for sexual abuse victims were during her time as a social worker in Santa Monica. The organization has since become an internationally renowned model for child advocacy centers, providing a place where children who have been sexually assaulted are provided free medical, legal and psychological care.

Olsen first met Abarbanel in 2015, when she received a tour of Stuart House and its facilities.

“I learned about all the ways that Stuart House has managed to fill a need in a system that can otherwise be so damaging to child victims,” Olsen said. “Without a program like Stuart House, it’s not unheard of for a child to have to go to as many as six different agencies to report their abuse and sit through interviews by professionals with no training whatsoever on how to work with children. At Stuart House, they provide in-house police detectives, prosecutors, child advocates, therapists and forensic services to help expedite investigations and child protection actions.”

Olsen also took a moment to describe the volunteer work she does for Stuart House, which involves working alongside carefully vetted adults as they welcome and engage with children waiting for appointments, providing a safe, comfortable space for victims.

“I don’t say this lightly, but the kids who come to Stuart House really love coming… There’s a boy who is 5 who’s been with us for the last three months and he started coming early just because he wants to play with our magnetic tiles,” Olsen shared. “Ultimately he’s having a positive association with the people and the place where he is receiving treatment — treatment that will ultimately be life-saving for his future. And his future is one of many that Gail has helped transform.”



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