“I didn’t choose the film, the film chose me” – Suba Sivakumaran | Sunday Observer

“I didn’t choose the film, the film chose me” – Suba Sivakumaran

7 July, 2019

Suba Sivakumaran, a one-off women filmmaker, a rare sight in the Sri Lankan film industry, blazed the trail recently by winning the Most Promising Filmmaker Award of the year at the Seventh Derana Film Awards 2019 for her debut feature film House of My Fathers under the ‘Cinema of Tomorrow’ category. One can effortlessly argue that ‘House of my Fathers’ is another cookie-cutter standard film which has been created to please the international film festival jurors and critics by re-creating the Sri Lankan ironic-common story- based on the 30 year long civil war in an allegoric and symbolic way.

However, it is not an overstatement to say Suba’s debut effort House of My Fathers is the most interesting production of the Seventh Derana Film Festival 2019. Especially, the ability she proved from her debut effort through its unbearably beautiful craftsmanship and her thorough understanding of filmology and cinematic language is remarkable.

In House of My Fathers Suba Sivakumaran brings out a stirring story of two warring villages, one Sinhalese and the other Tamil, in a poetic, allegorical form of art. Both communities living in these two villages are suddenly struck with a curse by which all the villagers become infertile and fearing for their legacies. The leaders of the two villagers listen to the priests and receive a message from the gods, i.e. to send a Tamil woman and a Sinhala man to the woods where they would find the secret to renew life. Hence, Asoka (Bimal Jayakody) and Ahalya (Pradeepa) start their journey through the Forest of Death accompanied by the Strange Doctor (Steve De La Zilwa). Asoka and Ahalya face the secrets of their villages and their personal pasts and only one of them returned with ‘hope’ for the future of the village. It is a surrealistic journey to the dreadful consequences of war and the audience gets the chance to peep into Asoka’s, Ahalya’s and the ‘Strange Doctor’s troubled minds through their past dreadful stories.

“Through House of My Fathers I didn’t wish to focus on who did what to whom and the consequences of each one’s actions. That could surely be someone else’s film, not mine. Through my film I wanted to focus on memories, feelings and the sense of tragedy that people live with, everyday, but never thought to speak about it, although those memories haunt their dreams and their sub-conscience. To narrate the story I wanted to use myths and allegories which are quite familiar in our tradition. Therefore, House of My Fathers is all about those people who have loved and lost and perhaps knowingly or unknowingly betrayed those who they did love,” Suba Sivakumaran told the Sunday Observer, during her vacation in Sri Lanka.

Born in Sri Lanka in 1981, Suba had to migrate with her parents to London while still an infant. She studied Political Science and Public Policy at the undergraduate and graduate level and thereafter started working for the United Nations.

She returned to Sri Lanka soon after the Tsunami in 2014 where she spent a few months through her work. She got the opportunity to travel around and meet people in every corner of the country. Despite her professional background in Economics and Political Science, she desperately wanted to get into the field of film-making and directed her first short film, I too have a name in 2012, which was well received by the audience.

“Since my teenage days I nurtured a desire to become a filmmaker, but cultural and family expectations kept me away from my passion. I didn’t know anyone in the film industry. However, when I was 30, I got the chance to assist on a short film, when I made my first shot, I too have a name in 2012. It was a self realization for me to know I was meant to make films,” Suba recalls.

Answering the question about her authentic relationship to the theme of the film and how she understands the 30 year war the country experienced, while being a diaspora member, living outside the country almost all her life, she said, she is somewhat an ‘outsider’ who rarely had first-hand experience of the ethnic conflict. “I’m not a ‘victim’ nor an ‘oppressor’ of the conflict,” she said.

She stressed that contrary to the fact that the term ‘diaspora’ should be a neutral term used to address a certain community living outside the motherland, it carries a highly political meaning.

Therefore, she hesitates to call herself a representative of the diaspora because she doesn’t associate with Diaspora politics and it is not the politics that she shared.

She considered the history of the country as a reference to the film but not as a depiction. “The reality of that particular time period has not been replicated in the film, that’s why I chose the form of allegory to tell the story. It’s nothing to do with what happened on the ground. I only wanted to bring out that the people of the North and the South had gone through an insurgency that attempted to overthrow the state. In this context we have shared experiences through which we can learn if we try,” she said.

Suba hesitates to call House of My Fathers as a political film because she didn’t want the audience to narrow down the film according to their political agendas. “That’s why it does not specifically replicate incidents that really happened, referring to them through various symbols. For me as a filmmaker it is not actual politics that matter but what has been left behind, and through my film I tried to understand that.”

“You cannot kill yourself for five years if you don’t believe in it.

Any well made film would surely reach-out in the international film festival arena as well as in the local cinema scene. If someone thinks a filmmaker shouldn’t touch upon big themes in the cinema but consider promoting the beauty of the country and its beaches, that would sound bizarre. I always believe the artiste has to tell the truth about society. The challenge is finding the correct form to reveal the truth. I didn’t choose the film, the film chose me,” she added.

House of My Fathers benefited most by Kalinga Deshapriya’s unapologetically brave cinematography and his ability to capture the journey of the two main characters in the forest, which was absolutely poetic and an extraordinary cinematographic exercise.

His pictures and frames supported the mood of the surrealist fashion that Suba always looked up to.

“I truly appreciate the excellent production design done by Bimal Dushmantha and am thankful to my entire team and shared all the credits with them,” Suba said.

The main characters portrayed by Bimal Jayakody as Asoka and Pradeepa as Ahalya blended well with each other as well as in their separate characters and it was quite an impressive chemistry they had between them throughout the film.

It is incredible that it was Pradeepa’s first appearance on the screen, she proved the fact that the ability of non-actors are much more natural on the screen. “I had no doubts about the ability of Bimal in Asoka’s role. However, to select Pradeepa for the role of Ahalya was purely a coincidence and I was truly lucky that she eventually agreed to perform after pursuing her for six months,” she added.

House of My Fathers is produced by Suba Sivakumaran’s Palmyrah Talkies as a co-production with Dominique Welinski at DW Productions. The film had its world premiere in South Korea at the Busan International Film Festival last year and has been selected and screened at more than fifteen international film festivals.