Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries dies at 99


Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries dies at 99

Pani Wijesiriwardane and Gamini Karunatileka

23 May 2018

Lester James Peries, widely regarded as the “father of Sri Lankan cinema” and revered throughout much of South Asia, died on April 29, a few weeks after his 99th birthday.

Born on April 5, 1919, Peries directed 28 films, including features, shorts and documentaries, and also wrote and produced many of these works, during his more than 60-year career. His best known and internationally acclaimed dramatic features include, Gamperaliya (Changes in the Village [1963]), Nidhanaya (The Treasure [1972]) and Wekanda Walauwa (Mansion by the Lake [2002]), Sri Lanka’s first submission to the Academy Awards.

Lester James Peries, photo courtesy of Sarath Perera

Peries’s best films, like the great dramas directed by India’s Satyajit Ray and Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, have left their mark on Asian and world cinema.

Nidhanaya, which is regarded by many as Peries’s greatest film, won the Silver Lion award at the 1972 Venice Film Festival and was named as one of the most outstanding 100 films of the twentieth century by the Paris-based Cinémathèque Française. Gamperaliya, based on a famed novel by Sri Lankan writer Martin Wickramasinghe, was awarded a Golden Peacock award at the International Film Festival of India in 1964.

Peries made two indelible contributions to Sri Lankan filmmaking. First, his pioneering work helped win acceptance of cinema as a recognised art form in the early years of the former British colony.

In 1947, and during the first decade of Sri Lanka cinema, most films screened in the island-nation were produced in South India and heavily influenced by that culture. Many of the directors, in fact, were from India. These films were partially…

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