French film festival sparks Sri Lanka protests

A film shown by France's embassy in Sri Lanka on Bastille Day, and set during the country's civil war has sparked protests, with crowds accusing France of supporting Tamil rebels. The embassy said authorities cleared the screening.

French film festival sparks Sri Lanka protests
Pro-government demonstrators in Sri Lanka protest at the French embassy in Colombo after the screening of a controversial 2011 film there on Bastille Day. Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP

Hundreds of government supporters protested outside the French embassy in Colombo Wednesday over a film festival which included a local movie considered by Sri Lanka's military to be insulting.

Demonstrators chanted anti-French slogans, denouncing the Sinhalese-language movie "Flying Fish" and the embassy for showing it at the French film festival organised to coincide with Bastille Day celebrations.

"If you sleep with dogs, you will wake up with fleas," said posters in faulty French. Others carried signs saying "This is Sri Lanka, not Mali" and "Before you sweep your neighbour's doorstep, sweep your own," in French.

The organisers of the protest accused France of supporting Sri Lanka's defeated Tamil rebels.

The defence ministry has said that the film, though approved by civilian censors for screening before an invited adult audience at the festival, was insulting to security forces.

The festival was stopped on Saturday by the management of its state-owned venue after the screening of "Flying Fish", a family drama set during the ethnic war in the island's northeast.

A defence ministry official told reporters the film had been "banned" in Sri Lanka and producers had no permission to use military-type uniforms in the movie.

However, the French embassy said it had clearance from the official censor, the Public Performance Board.

A local rights group, the Free Media Movement, said the defence ministry's action in effectively banning the festival amounted to "militarization" of the cinema and culture in Sri Lanka.

A group of independent film producers, artists and academics also condemned the government action.

"We stress it is a right of a citizen to watch the film and form their own opinions. It cannot be the prerogative of the government," the group said in a joint statement.

The festival was scheduled to end last Sunday but was terminated on Saturday morning.

The embassy said it had selected the 2011 movie with the support of Sri Lanka's culture ministry due to its international recognition in festivals in Asia and in France.

Sri Lanka is highly sensitive to criticism of its troops, who are facing international censure for alleged war crimes in the final stages of crushing Tamil separatists in 2009.

Authorities have banned several local productions, saying they were undermining military morale. The government has rejected allegations that its troops killed 40,000 civilians in the closing stages of the war.

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The one French film you need to see this month

If there's one film you have to see in France this month then "Le Chant du Loup", starring some of France's most famous actors is the one. French movie experts Lost in Frenchlation explain why.

The one French film you need to see this month
Photo: Screengrab YouTube trailer Le Chant du Loup

Submarine films are a subgenre of war films that are able to heighten intensity due to their unique setting.

They are able to go beyond the normal tensions of the average action film by highlighting the close quarters and removal from civilization.

In addition to the claustrophobia and isolation, there’s a number of things that can go wrong that far down, from machinery fires to decompression sickness.

Over 150 submarine films have been made in the past 100 years.

This genre is popular with French and Americans alike, leading to successful films such as The Hunt for Red October in America and now Le Chant du Loup (The Wolf's Call) in France, and even a cultural overlap in the English-language French-Belgian film Kursk.

Le Chant du Loup stars César Award winning actor, Omar Sy, who became one of France’s most popular actors after his role in Les Intouchables.

Mathieu Kassovitz of Amelie fame also stars in this film.

He is popular in France and abroad, earning him numerous awards from Cannes to Chicago.

Le Chant du Loup is “the wolf’s call” the sound of a sonar that can be detected by the main character of the film, an acoustic analyst known as “the golden ear”.

This film provides insight into French politics and warfare, fueled by director Antonin Baudry’s personal experiences from his time as a diplomat and advisor to the prime minister.

A realistic element is also added by the fact that the film was shot using real submarines and sets that were built in real scale.

Having the cast and crew move around in a confined space when filming allowed them to connect to the story.

Don’t miss this film being screened on Thursday March 14th at 7 pm at Cinéma Luminor with English subtitles by Lost in Frenchlation: