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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.


ARRAY

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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Jafar Panahi Goes on Hunger Strike to Protest Still Being in Jail After His Sentence Has Been Overturned

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Jafar Panahi has gone on a hunger strike to protest being still held in Tehran’s Evin prison even though Iran’s supreme court has overturned the conviction that led to the dissident director’s detention.

Panani has issued a statement from prison saying that to protest against the “illegal and inhumane” treatment by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary and security forces and their “hostage-taking” he will stop eating, drinking, and taking his medications until “maybe my lifeless body would be released from this prison.”

The statement announcing Panahi’s decision to go on a hunger strike was posted by Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeedi and son Panah Panahi on their Instagram accounts.

Panahi, 62, is known globally for prizewinning works such as “The Circle,” “Offside,” “This is Not a Film,” “Taxi,” and most recently “No Bears,” winner of last year’s Venice’s Special Jury Prize. He was arrested last July in Tehran in the wake of the country’s conservative government crackdown. Panahi had been there to visit Tehran’s prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of fellow dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulov, who had been incarcerated a few days earlier after signing an appeal against police violence.

Since his arrest, Panahi’s lawyers in October managed to successfully overturn the six-year sentence issued against the director in 2010 for “propaganda against the system,” in Iran’s highest court according to Panahi’s lawyer, Saleh Nikhbakht. That sentence has become obsolete due to the country’s 10-year statute of limitations and Panahi’s case has been sent to an Iranian court of appeals. But the directors’ wife and laywers say that Iranian security are now forcing the judiciary to keep him behind bars.

Rasoulov and Panahi’s imprisonment took place before the wave of protests sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was held in custody for allegedly wearing a loose hijab. Those protests have caused more than 500 civilians to be killed by government security forces and more than 100 members of the Iranian film industry to be arrested or banned from making movies.

On Jan. 4, Iranian authorities released Taraneh Alidoosti, the star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film “The Salesman,” almost three weeks after she was jailed for criticizing a crackdown on the anti-government protests.



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Five Nights At Freddy’s Movie Finally Begins Filming With First BTS Image

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Jason Blum has officially confirmed that the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has begun filming, posting a behind-the-scenes photo to Twitter.


The Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has finally begun filming after a long period in development limbo. A now-massive horror franchise, Five Nights at Freddy’s first began as a video game created by Scott Cawthon in 2014. The game was met with critical acclaim for bringing something new to the horror video game genre and would go on to spawn eight subsequent games, and dozens of spinoffs. The Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise has continued rapidly expanding since the first game’s release, and now includes several book series, comic books, board games, and merchandise. In July 2015, it was first announced that there were plans to create a Five Nights at Freddy’s film, with Blumhouse Productions announcing their involvement in 2018.

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

After a years-long development period, the Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has officially begun filming, with a behind-the-scenes image posted to Jason Blum‘s Twitter account. Check out the post below:

The image, which is simply captioned “Day 1 #FNAF,” shows several monitors displaying camera footage of a clapboard that reads the film’s working title, Bad Cupcake. On one of the monitors, an action figure of Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach‘s villain Vanny can be seen.


Everything We Know About the Five Nights at Freddy’s Movie

How FNAF Security Breach Ending Sets Up A Sequel William Afton Freddy Fazbear

Though it’s not yet clear if the film will follow the plot of any Five Nights at Freddy’s game in particular, the movie’s script and premise has changed several times since its 2015 announcement. In January 2017, after two years of development, Cawthon stated that the production was “back at square one” after setbacks and difficulties within the film industry. After Blumhouse signed on in 2018, the film was slated for a hopeful 2020 release. Later in August 2018, however, Cawthon announced that the script had been completely scrapped. Development on Five Nights at Freddy’s was largely silent throughout the pandemic, and only in 2022 did updates begin to come more regularly.

In August 2022, Blum posted teasers from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the company set to build the film’s animatronics. In December, it was announced that Matthew Lillard and Josh Hutcherson had been cast in unknown roles. It has been reported that Lillard will be playing William Afton, the major antagonist of the Five Nights at Freddy’s games, while Hutcherson will be playing Mike Schmidt, the overnight security guard that players take the role of in first game. However, there has been no official confirmation of these roles.

Since Blum released the first behind-the-scenes look at Five Nights at Freddy’s, it seems that the working title Bad Cupcake could be in reference to Chica’s cupcake, which appears in three of the games. The other question is if the Vanny action figure standing on top of the monitors could be a hint to Vanessa’s character appearing in the film, or if the character behind the clapboard on the monitors could be Lillard’s Afton. Though there are still plenty of questions surrounding the upcoming Five Nights at Freddy’s movie, at least there is finally forward movement on the project after spending years in development hell.

Source: Jason Blum/Twitter



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James Mangold in Early Talks to Direct ‘Swamp Thing’ for DC Studios

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Plans have begun to formulate for James Gunn and Peter Safran’s slate of DC Studios films, with filmmaker James Mangold in early talks to take on “Swamp Thing.”

Sources tell Variety that Mangold is a longtime fan of the DC Comics supernatural hero and approached Gunn and Safran with his idea for the forthcoming project.

Of course, Mangold is a comic book veteran after writing, directing and executive producing the R-rated superhero movie “Logan,” the third “Wolverine” film starring Hugh Jackman, which is regarded as the pinnacle of the “X-Men” movie franchise. However, the filmmaker has a particularly busy dance card, with “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” set to hit theaters in May and Searchlight’s Bob Dylan biopic “A Complete Unknown,” starring Timothée Chalamet, up next.

News of Mangold’s interest in “Swamp Thing” comes just 24 hours after Gunn and Safran announced the first 10 film and TV titles within the rebooted DC Universe on Tuesday morning. The co-chiefs explained that these films make up Chapter 1 of the DCU, which they are calling “Gods and Monsters.”

During the presentation, Safran said that the film will “investigate the dark origins” of the DC Comics character through the prism of horror.

“This is a much more horrific film, but we’ll still have Swamp Thing interact with the other characters,” Gunn added, making a reference to the introduction of Rocket Raccoon to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the “Guardians of the Galaxy films. “That mashup quality,” of having that character interacting with live-action players like Thor, he explained, ended up working out beautifully.

On Tuesday evening, following the project’s official announcement, Mangold posted an image of Swamp Thing to Twitter and Gunn retweeted the post, which got comic book fans buzzing that a collaboration might be in the works.

Swamp Thing was created by writer Len Wein and horror artist Bernie Wrightson (whose artwork is featured in Mangold’s tweet) and first appeared in a standalone story in 1971’s “House of Secrets No. 92,” followed by a popular run under Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben in the 1980s. The DC Comics character first appeared on the big screen in 1982’s “Swamp Thing,” directed by horror master Wes Craven, and most recently headlined a short-lived series created by Gary Dauberman and Mark Verheiden for the DC Universe streaming service in 2019. He also appeared in Season 3 of HBO Max’s animated series “Harley Quinn,” as a vegan, health-nut voiced by Sam Richardson.

The Hollywood Reporter was first to report news of Mangold’s involvement in the project. Warner Bros. did not comment on the reports.

Mangold is repped by WME, Entertainment 360, and Sloane Offer.

Additional reporting by Adam B. Vary.



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