- The Centre for Media and Information Literacy holds workshops for young female filmmakers in Jaffna and Batticaloa
The Centre for Media and Information Literacy (CMIL) recently conducted two mobile short film training programmes in Jaffna and Batticaloa to develop the skills of 50 young female short filmmakers to use smartphones to produce compelling short films addressing various human rights issues affecting women living in marginalised settings.
The workshop in Jaffna was held from 24 to 27 November with 26 participants and was followed by the workshop in Batticaloa from 1 to 4 December with 24 participants.
National and international award-winning Sri Lankan theatre practitioner and film director Dr. Indika Ferdinando and film producer and director Sumudu Malalagama conducted the trainings, which were organised under the initiative “Film Incubator for Equality”, a programme supported by the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo.
The workshop aimed to enhance the participants’ capacity to capture the lived reality of women in marginalised settings through engaging short films shot on their smartphones, thus raising awareness of the systematic violation of these women’s human rights that is commonplace in such areas.
“It is extremely vital for women to break their silence against gender-based violence (GBV) and human rights violations and continue to challenge systemic oppressions against women and young girls. One of the most effective ways to make this happen is to empower women to produce critical narratives that articulate the realities of their lives,” said University of the Visual and Performing Arts lecturer Ayesha Chathurangi at the workshop in Jaffna.
When she said that the majority of women are silent against GBV while addressing the women during the workshop, almost all of them in attendance agreed; many complemented her statement with their personal stories.
Substantiating Ayesha’s statement, the majority of women from the Northern Province said sexual bribery, sexual harassment on public transport, gender-based discrimination, cyber-misogyny, and denying access to the public sphere are some of the issues they face in their daily lives, although most women do not speak out loud about their experiences in seeking justice.
During both trainings, the participants learned how to produce short films to address issues such as economic inequality, GBV, climate injustice, digital misogyny, and a lack of gender-responsive political and civic participation through mobile-based short filmmaking. The participants from Jaffna made a practice film on sexual harassment where they discussed how young women are trapped by officials of corporate and State institutions. Viewing the film, the women maintained that a culture of zero tolerance is needed to eliminate sexual harassment.
The participants collectively affirmed that fear of sexual harassment discourages women from discovering their own potential, achieving their goals, and fulfilling their aspirations. Thanushiya, a young filmmaker and university graduate, said: “Short films in Jaffna society have created a greater awareness amongst young people on the rights of the LGBTQ community and young girls. However, creating a culture of respect and recognition is a lifelong challenge.” She further said: “When girls remain silent, it becomes extremely hard to create constant recognition for equality”.
Right to safe abortion
The participants from the Eastern Province made two films focusing on the right to marital consent of girls and the right to safe abortion. Young girls were given the opportunity to contribute to the story development where they shared their personal experiences in crafting their script.
Keshayini Edmond, a participant and short filmmaker directed a short film about the right to safe abortion which highlighted the stigma which exists around safe abortion. Young girls indicated that some fathers and families dismantle the rights of girls to choose a partner of their choice. Some girls said that the consent of young girls is not often valued when it comes to marriage.
Divya Rasathurai, a short filmmaker shared: “When producing films on the reality of women, it is important to use metaphoric approaches and to engage the audience emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Women should not be portrayed as powerless, helpless, voiceless, and vulnerable individuals”.
One of the chief trainers, Sumudu Malalagama, sharing her observations, said: “It is important to train women in filmmaking. I have seen the art of making films empowering women. In the Eastern workshop, I observed a girl who was very shy to talk and reluctant to express her ideas and articulate her thoughts. However, when she was involved in filmmaking, I found her to possess exceptional talent in providing art direction support to the team. She could amazingly draw a storyboard. She had a unique ability to convert entire scripts to drawings. She organised the setting very creatively. Towards the end of the training, she was making suggestions and ideas very confidently.”
They learned how to shoot and edit videos using freely available mobile applications such as Kinemaster. Each participant went through individualised training on developing emotionally powerful characters and story ideas and converting them into meaningful films reflecting the voice of women.
The same training programmes will be conducted in the Eastern and Southern Provinces too. Under the Film Incubator for Equality project, 76 young female filmmakers will be trained on promoting greater equality and gender justice.
CMIL is working closely with the University of Jaffna, University of Trincomalee campus, and University of the Visual and Performing Arts, in designing a digital curriculum on filmmaking through smartphones and addressing the human rights issues affecting women. The digital course will be available free of charge to all film enthusiasts in Sri Lanka.