05/02/2018, 17.02
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Farewell for Catholic filmmaker Lester James Peries, 'father' of Sinhala cinema

by Melani Manel Perera

Peries died at the age of 99 in a Colombo hospital. As a young man he left school to study cinema in London, where he lived for six years with his brother, a painter. His films have left indelible marks on Sri Lanka’s cinema. His first feature-length film was also the first Sri Lankan movie shot outdoors. He was also the first Sri Lankan to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Lester James Peries, the critically acclaimed father of Sri Lankan cinema, is no more. The 99-year-old Catholic man died last Saturday in a private hospital in Colombo.

Peries had celebrated his 99th birthday on 5 April under the patronage of President Maithripala Sirisena, at his home in Thimbirigasyaya, Colombo.

Born in 1919 into a wealthy Catholic family, Peries was educated St Peter’s College in Bambalapitiya (Colombo). As a young man, his father, a doctor, put pressure on him to enter the seminary.

After dropping out of college after a year, he began writing for the theatre and cinema. Eventually, he reunited with his brother, a painter, in London in 1947 and worked in the British capital for six years as a correspondent for the Times of Ceylon. During this period, he produced some short films, including Farewell to Childhood (1950).

Peries is considered the father of Sinhala cinema, who revolutionised cinematography with the 1956 movie, Rekava, the first Sri Lankan feature-length film to be shot outdoors. In 1957, the movie was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

During his career, Peries won numerous national and international awards, including the Sri Lankabhimanya, Sri Lanka’s highest national honour, and a life-time achievement award at the Ada Derana ceremony in 2017.

He made 28 award-winning movies, including: Sandesaya, Gamperaliya, Delovak Atara, Golu Hadawatha, Nidhanaya, Madol Duwa, Weera Puran Appu, Kaliyugaya, Yuganthaya, Baddegama, Wekanda Wallauwa and Avaragira.

His Wekande Walauwa, starring Ravindra Randeniya and Malini Fonseka, was Sri Lanka's first feature to receive an Academy Awards nomination.

In 1964, Peries married the equally famous director Sumitra. On his last birthday, his wife presented her latest film, Vaishnavee, based on an original story by Peries.

The film had been in limbo for about five years before it was presented at a Grand Gala, but Peries could not attend due to poor health.

As one of the actresses present at the premiere said, he prayed every night in the past few years for the film’s release.

Upon orders of President Sirisena, the filmmaker received a state funeral in Independence Square, Colombo, at 4 pm today.

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