19th December 1999

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A tribute by Jith Pieris

Sharing and inspiring, he played his role

By Roshan Peiris

Patience and gener-osity were his hall-marks and we learnt the finer points of stagecraft through him. He was a professional actor who was always ready to share his expertise with others. Unfortunately, that era of actors is now gone.

These were the thoughts expressed with much feeling by well-known actor, producer and director Jith Pieris about his mentor Winston Serasinghe.

Says Jith, "Winston acted with me in different productions such as 'Kashyappa of Sigiriya', 'The man who came to dinner' and 'Return of A.J. Raffles' which was directed by Chanaka Amaratunge. In the last play Winston was the majestic Prince of Wales fitting perfectly into the part, while I was the Marquis of Queensbury. He shared his finely-honed talent ungrudgingly with all of us."

"Not only was Winston inspiring," he says with a catch in his voice,"he would go out of his way to explain the details of the play and make the actors understand the spirit of the characters. I always looked forward to acting with him. He also helped us get our costumes and props organised, or in any other way he could."

In later years Winston took to acting in teledramas and brought a lot of stagecraft to them. This was in the early days of teledramas, he explains.

The Winston-Jith bond did not begin on the stage. The memories Jith cherishes go back to the time when Winston played rugger as a Royalist and later with the CR and FC and for Ceylon, with his father. The bond was strengthened by the fact that his stage guru was his father's namesake.

Showing their talents

By Hiranthi Fernando

Fifty-three artists from around the country, are currently exhibiting their work at the National Art Gallery. Their show, organized by the Ceylon Society of Arts established in 1887, ends tomorrow.

"Every year we have six exhibitions," said Joe Damulagala, President of the Society. "The idea is to collect all the artists and sculptors in Sri Lanka, so that they could display their talents at a centre like the Ceylon Society of Arts, started by the British."

According to Mr. Dambulagala, they have an anniversary exhibition each year in November. The current exhibition is a group- showing by members and non-members. A press notice is inserted calling for artists who wish to exhibit their work. Through these exhibitions they help little known artists, who have never displayed their work and are not able to organise an exhibition on their own.

The Society, which has an office at the National Art Gallery, provides a service for young artists to learn and improve their work. Two instructors give classes for students on a voluntary basis. They are paid a nominal fee to cover their expenses.

Mr. Kariyawasam, the General Secretary of the Society is one of the instructors who has volunteered to give classes to students on Saturdays. Mr. Kariyawasam who obtained his teacher certificate in 1949, has been a member of the Ceylon Society of Arts since 1950. He taught art until his retirement in 1984 and worked three years in the Cultural Triangle, copying temple paintings at Dambulla.

"We also have a Drawing Club, which started about 100 years ago at a place called the Coffee Tavern in the Fort," Mr. Dambulagala said. "The Club which had been abandoned for some time, has now been reorganised. "The purpose of the Drawing Club is to train young artists to further their knowledge by conducting outdoor sketching classes," he explained. These classes are held by the roadside, at temples, parks and at the Zoo. Through this training, the students get the opportunity to express themselves. On January 8, they plan to conduct the drawing class at the Gangaramaya Simamalaka on the Beira Lake.

Kala Corner - By Dee Cee

Among the Asian masterpieces

The doyen of Sinhala cinema, Dr Lester James Peries has once again gained international recognition. Once he was among the 'Five Directors of the Year' chosen by the prestigious film magazine, 'International Film Guide.' A number of his films have been hailed in the international arena. Now his creation, 'Nidhanaya' has been chosen as one of the 20th Century Asian Masterpieces, an honour we should all feel proud about. It's the only film from Sri Lanka to gain such a unique position.

'Nidhanaya' (made in 1972) was among 13 Asian films selected for the Pusan International Film Festival to celebrate 20th Century Asian Cinema. Among the other best known films were Satyajit Ray's 'Pather Panchali', (1955) the moving story of the struggle of a poor Bengali family and Akira Kurosawa's classic, 'Rashomon' (1950) based on the theme that human beings are unable to be honest with themselves about themselves.

Explaining the rationale behind the selection of the masterpieces, the organisers say the selected films not only transcend cultural and national borders and have made great contributions to world cinema, but also influenced it as well. Many creative works have emerged from the territories of Asia carrying qualities that were as profound as their diverse cultures.

They called the festival where all the masterpieces were screened, "a precious opportunity to recognise and to honour such Asian films as we approach the 21st Century."

It's indeed a great achievement that in our short history of just a little over 50 years in film-making, we had at least one amongst around 900 films produced in this country so far to merit such selection.

Dr Peries, who turned 80 this year, is undoubtedly a happy man that he was able to get into the league of the best Asian directors within his four decades of film-making. He has seen most of the other Asian masterpieces and speaks highly of their creators. He is thankful to the National Film Corporation for arranging for a brand new print of 'Nidhanaya' for the Pusan Festival and to the Asian Film Centre, Sri Lanka for co-ordinating the arrangements.

The selections

Among the selected Asian cinema masterpieces are two from India - 'Pather Panchali' & Ritvik Ghatak's 'Megha Deta Tara' (Cloud capped Star - 1959), two from Japan - 'Rashomon' & Kenji Mizoguchi's 'Ugetsu Story' (1953) and one each from Iran (Abbas Kiarotsani's 'Where is the Friend's Home' - 1987), China (Chen Kaige's 'Yellow Earth' - 1984),Korea (Yu Hyun-Mok's 'An Aimless Bullet' - 1961), Indonesia (Garin Nigroho's 'Leaf on a Pillow'-1998), Philippines (Lino Brocka's 'Manila in the Claws of Neon' - 1975), Kazahkstan (Ermek Shinabaev's 'Revenge'-1989), Taiwan (Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Time to Live and the Time to Die'-1985) and Vietnam (Dang Nihat Minh's 'When the Tenth Month Comes' - 1984).

The Pusan Festival is relatively new and this year was its fourth. It's the Pusan Festival which put young film-maker Prasanna Vitanage on the map. His creations, 'Pavuru Valalu' & 'Purahanda Kaluvara' began their international circuit there.

Getting back to 'Nidhanaya', it has a proud record in the global setting. Among Sinhala films, it's the most acclaimed at international level. Winner of the Silver Lion of St Mark at the Venice Festival, 'Nidhanaya' was the only Sri Lankan film to be among the best 100 films nominated by Cinematique, the French cinema organization to commemorate the centenary of world cinema.

Film critics in Sri Lanka unanimously voted 'Nidhanaya' as the best film produced during the first 50 years of Sinhala cinema. Lester's own 'Gamperaliya' was second and his first Sinhala film, 'Rekawa' came ninth.

A well deserved tribute

Tired but happy, play-wright Henry Jayasena was returning home after attending a well deserved felicitation ceremony by the State. The National Library Services Board auditorium was the venue of the ceremony which was attended by ministers, bureaucrats and well-wishers.

He was particularly pleased with what Tissa Abeysekera had said about him. Henry himself made a fairly long speech.

The Arts Council's Sinhala Drama Panel had devoted its journal 'Abhinaya' to Henry Jayasena, making it a fitting felicitation volume. (Copies were distributed that day but are still not available to the public because the price had not been fixed).

This was the second occasion when Henry was felicitated during the past three months. The first was when publisher Dayawansa Jayakody's simple ceremony to launch Henry's latest creation, 'Lazarus' turned out to be an 'upahara ulela' with the speakers touching on Henry's invaluable contribution to the arts in this country.

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