Film southasia

"Festival of southasian documentries"

Filming the ‘war without witness’

As planned, Film Southasia organisers went ahead with screenings of three Sri Lankan films in spite of pressure from the Sri Lankan government. Hundreds of people packed the hall at Yala Mala Kendra near Patan Dhoka, a turnout that demonstrated how the censorship attempt completely backfired and actually drummed up audience interest.

Simply watching the introduction to No Fire Zone makes it clear why the Sri Lankan government doesn’t want people seeing it. The film presents a case against the Sri Lankan army’s onslaught in the 2008-2009, the period that brought a violent end to the civil war and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This is a visual documentation of the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government as they eviscerated the LTTE and the Tamil population along with it.

The film provides some historical context for how the conflict developed, with the systematic marginalisation of the Tamil population after independence, pogroms against Tamils at specific stages, and the emergence of violent resistance (after non-violent protests) most notably by the LTTE.  However, the main focus is to document the atrocities committed by the army against the Tamil population, especially in attacks on civilian infrastructure and the so-called ‘Safe Zones’ identified by the government. Repeatedly, the army shelled makeshift hospitals just after international medical organisations provided coordinates of the location with the hope of avoiding such targeting.

No Fire Zone is very difficult to watch due to the extent of atrocities that are shown almost unfiltered. At different points, when you think the situation depicted on screen can’t get any worse, the film presents even more egregious abuses including sexual violence, forced disappearances, the execution of surrendered militants (and the son of LTTE leader Prabhakaran), and the internment of Tamils in concentration camps when the war ended.

The audience reaction was very somber and emotional, and the short discussion that followed dealt with the question of ‘what can we do now?’ Some of the things mentioned include putting economic pressure on the Rajapaksa regime by targeting Western aid, and preventing the regime from seeking legitimacy by hosting regional and international diplomatic engagements.

Blog By Rajeev Ravisankar

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