Witnessing War, Yearning for Peace: Two Documentary Films from Sri Lanka

by Iffat Fatima and Lisa Kois

After more than 20 years of war, in February 2002 the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam signed a ceasefire agreement. Barriers to travel, dialogue, and understanding seemed to melt away as physical, mental, and emotional space opened and hope surged. The A9 road - the central road linking the north and south of Sri Lanka, which had been closed to civilian traffic for 12 years - was opened and became the symbol of this hope. Brandeis International Fellows Iffat Fatima and Lisa Kois traveled from north to south along the A9 and other roads, exploring questions of political violence and memory, documenting what they saw, and gathering the stories of those whose lives have been forever altered by war and political violence. They composed their footage into two films.

"LANKA-The Other Side of War and Peace," by Iffat Fatima

In this documentary film, Kashmiri filmmaker and cultural researcher Iffat Fatima travels the A9 highway, collecting the stories and testimonies of people whose lives have been, for decades, disrupted by violence. The film is an exploration of the enormous and tragic consequences of violent conflict, as people recall and bear witness to the loss and displacement that has, in many ways, defined their lives. The film juxtaposes multiple perspectives and narrators, making its viewers witnesses to the suffering and the survival, to the effects of war and the hope for peace, that exist simultaneously in Sri Lanka. Since its completion in May 2005, LANKA-The Other Side of War and Peace has been screened extensively in Sri Lanka and internationally.

"the art of forgetting," by Lisa Kois

A 56-minute documentary Sinhala, Tamil, and English, with subtitles in Sinhala, Tamil, or English (Sri Lanka, 2006). Click here to view the facilitation guide (PDF format).

The independent documentary film, the art of forgetting, uses the power of memory to break through the silence and statistical anonymity that characterizes dominant discourses of war. Filmed in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2005 during an internationally brokered ceasefire, the art of forgetting is set within the context of the filmmaker's journey from the northern-most tip of Sri Lanka to the southern-most tip. It loosely traces the overlapping histories of armed conflict in Sri Lanka through the stories of ordinary people met along the way.

The art of forgetting is not intended to chronicle, analyze or explain Sri Lanka's recent history. Simply, it serves as a vehicle to carry and convey peoples' stories to a broader audience. It is an invitation to remember... to feel... to reflect... to discuss. It is not an answer. It is a question.

While the art of forgetting is rooted solidly in the experience of Sri Lanka, it speaks to the universal experience of suffering and survival of those who find themselves caught in cycles of political violence and war.

The art of forgetting is available in three languages: English, Sinhala and Tamil. It is being used throughout Sri Lanka by national and community-based organizations as part of peace building efforts. Lisa has recently completed a written facilitation guide to accompany the film and further support its use as a tool to promote dialogue on issues of political violence, memory and accountability. The idea to produce a written guide emerged at the Institute.

A copy of the DVD is available in the office of the Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence.