Insightful shots | Daily News

Insightful shots

Thivanka Perera.  Picture by Saman Sri Wedage
Thivanka Perera. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

His pen spelt success. Young screenwriter Thivanka Rukshan Perera’s ‘Silent Letter’ won the Best Short Film (debut) award at the Whatashort Independent International Film Festival held in New Delhi, India, last month. He won the award for his work out of over 400 entries from 34 countries. Directed by seasoned actor Kamal Addararachchi, the script and production of the short film was by Thivanka. The story rotates around a low caste young lad to tries to escape into the city life and meets devastating consequences.

This was not the first time that ‘Silent Letter’ has made it to the spotlight. It was picked for distribution by ‘Shorts International’ and was broadcast in USA this year. It also clinched a certificate of excellence at the Fifth Mumbai Shorts International Film Festival in Mumbai, India, last year.

Though he won the award for his scrip Thivanka himself has directed several productions focusing on natural history. These include Sri Lankan Jungle Fowl, 2016 Demo Reel, The Devil Bird of Sri Lanka and Brown Wood Owl – Juvenile’s Journey. All these have gone viral and have been viewed by many. The Devil Bird of Sri Lanka has earning him around 95, 000 views on YouTube.

A graduate of Academy of Art University, San Francisco, USA, with a major in screenwriting, Thivanka has done his foundation in communications in Malaysia in 2010.

“Though he is not a writer, my father, Dr Mahendra Perera, a Cancer Oncologist, is heavily into arts. I began my writing stint with poetry and gradually got into the visual medium via screenwriting. Screenwriting is more of a passionable pursuit rather than a lucrative venture. Though I hope to engage in another profession I wish to move into this field full time gradually,” said the old boy of at St Joseph’s College, Maradana.

Thivanka has authored several screenplays that were nominated for globally renowned contests such as the ‘Michael Collyer Memorial Fellowship in Screenwriting’, where his spec ‘Bird of Prey’ reached the finals making it to the top three in 2016. ‘Black Leopard’ was included in the ‘Hot 100’ list of screenplays compiled by the ‘Capital Fund Screenplay Competition’ in 2017. His screenplays have also been recognized by competitions such as Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Zoetrope Screenwriting Contest’, ‘Script Pipeline’ and ‘The World Series of Screenwriting’.

“’Bird of Prey’ was based on three wildlife documentaries I did: The Devil Bird of Sri Lanka, Brown Wood Owl and For Devil’s Sake: Owls of Sri Lanka. It was the first feature screenplay I scripted. One of the challenges we face in this field is that we do not have producers to produce the scripts. One means of getting your work noted is to submit it to international screenwriting competitions. If your script turns out to be the winner, your work would be picked up by producers and directors,” Thivanka explained.

He notes that wildlife naturalist and a painter Lester Perera has been very helpful during the making of his documentaries. The cinematographer was Dhanuska Bandara. The Devil Bird of Sri Lanka was shot at the Dehiwala Zoo while the Brown Wood Owl was captured in a rubber plantation in Kegalle.

“We have many people coming to Sri Lanka to capture the natural geographic elements here. I realized that we can do a better job than them because have access to everything within reach. One of the difficulties I faced while directing the bird series was trying to find out when the birds will be present. We had to rely on the trackers who would scout the jungles and inform us the whereabouts of the birds. Then we would pack our bags and scurry to the place to capture them in action,” he noted adding that unlike projects which involve telling a tale using actors, the schedule in these sort of documentaries is unpredictable.

His second screenplay for a feature film titled ‘Man Eater’ is currently under discussion to be directed by Chandran Rutnam. Speaking about his award winning production, ‘Silent Letter’ Thivanka said that he had developed the storyline while he was schooling in 2012.

“I used to visit my mother, Rupika Perera’s home town, Kegalle, and saw the people’s way of life over there. Sidney Chandrasekara is my father’s friend. He recommended Kamal Addararachchi to do the directing because he saw directing abilities in him. ‘Silent Letter’ was the first time Addararachchi had tried his hand at directing,” Thivanka said.

‘Silent Letter’ runs for 23 minutes. Two small boys who have never faced a camera before portray the main roles. They were selected from an orphanage in Nugegoda and had to go through a training session and an audition before taking on their roles. Many veteran actors like Sweenitha Weerasinghe, Jagath Benaragama, Lukshman Mendis, Mahinda Pathirage and others have acted in the production.

“Directing was difficult because the protagonists were new comers. At times we had to change the dialogs on the spot. We took about 20 takes for one scene once,” he recalled the difficulties the team faced while shooting ‘Silent Letter’.

Thivanka admires American filmmaker Sam Peckinpah’s westerns. He has a special liking for Indian short films as he says that they have great storylines.

He had just finished penning another short film script which centers on a cobbler’s son. The project is titled ‘Cobbler’s Son Wears No Shoes’ and he is looking for a director to make the short film. The story is about a cobbler who tries to keep the memory of his wife alive by making his son wear the same pair of shoes without mending or buying a new pair for him.

“This award motivated me to create a collection of short films by different directors and have them distributed worldwide to show the public that we have a good storytelling culture in Sri Lanka. My experience abroad made me realize that there aren’t many short films coming from Sri Lanka. I wanted to fill that void,” he pointed out.

His message to other youth is to keep pursuing their dreams.

“Learn to accept criticism as well. You get a lot of criticism of this when you are writing the screenplay. Do not take things personally but use them to develop your own projects. The you will be able to move forward,” he advised.

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