July 2010


Film culture in the making
July 2010




The gala opening ceremony of the Mahinda Rajapaksa National Tele-Cinema Park

Words: Prasadini Nanayakkara

At the southeastern coastal area of the island, Hambantota boasts the salt capital of Sri Lanka along with diverse surroundings of paddy fields, wildlife parks and pristine coastlines. Now it can also lay claim to the country's very first tele-cinema park, Ranmihitenna (golden earth) past the Tissamaharamaya town.

The creation of a haven for filmmakers and television producers, with all functional requirements under "one roof", was a concept introduced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The first of its kind in the country, the first phase of the project was opened on March 30, 2010 and the completion of the following two phases is tentatively set for the end
of 2011.

Named as the Mahinda Rajapaksa National Tele-Cinema Park (MRNTCP), this mammoth project commenced almost two years ago, in October 2008. Following the completion of phase one, the park's doors were opened to the public and filmmakers to witness its current offerings. Hambantota, although a four to five hour's drive from the commercial capital of Colombo, at present fits the bill as the ideal location. A 235-acre state owned land was available here and its natural scenic surroundings and many key locations just a stone's throw away added to its benefits. Simply put, this massive undertaking under the purview of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information aims to benefit the local cinema industry with the long-term goal of developing the park as an internationally recognised filming location.

Currently many filmmakers and producers resort to mobilising to a variety of locations throughout the island and even overseas including for post-production work such as film editing. Ranmihithenne would be an all in one solution from customised set designs, to natural filming locations offered by the immediate surroundings, to studios and editing equipment, to high-end accommodation and even a cinema library among a range of other required facilities. "The cost of living here is lower than in other parts of the country. Even for adjoining countries, the cost of food and transport offered here is comparatively competitive," says W. B. Ganegala, Secretary to the Ministry of Mass Media and Information who is also the Chairman of the tele-cinema park project. "With the construction and completion of the Hambantota port, Mattala International Airport and the Southern Highway the place will become more accessible and a very commercial area," he says of the impending benefits and conveniences the location would offer. What's more with nine months of the year devoid of heavy rainfall the region allows for uninhibited filming for long periods.

The phase one comprising only of 60-70 acres already meets a multitude of needs on its completion. Entering through the wide gates to the park, a large monument symbolising the film industry greets the visitor. Throughout its vast expanse are separate complexes that meet both personal and professional needs. An airy restaurant and varied modes of accommodation attend to personal comforts. For instance secluded chalets would be suitable for scriptwriters seeking the quiet, aside from the double rooms and dormitories, for actors and crewmembers. Furthermore, seminar halls have been built within these premises where the directors, producers and actors can congregate for discussions. The studio is state-of-the-art with the 100ft long green screen, the largest in Asia and is designed to shoot three films at the same time. Complete with 36 light bars it is the largest in the country. Other features of interest include a costume hall in the making which would house a portfolio of costumes to cater to different periods be it contemporary or colonial attire, a modern administrative complex, a cinema library still in progress, communication facilities and a training centre. To further enhance the convenience for the visiting film crews, a model bank would be developed of names and listings of available human resources from the local communities in the vicinity. They can be cast as film extras and other roles in films, which would serve to enrich the livelihoods of the communities as well. Furthermore, the building complexes also include a series of spaces to rent out for companies to provide filming equipment.

The creative sets and the natural attributes of the surroundings are the obvious attractions of the park, which is frequented by visitors including scores of students sometimes in the hundreds to experience its many features.

While the landscape is endowed with natural beauty with the picturesque lake and the surrounding forest areas, it also includes two different filming sets - a model village and a colonial style town that mimics the buildings of Fort in Colombo. The village set in the natural environs comprises of the village headman's house, a boutique, post office and other modest clay constructions authentic in appearance. The city is complete with roads and pavements, which are aligned by buildings, that include a cinema hall, hospital, court house, hotel and post office among other structures and creates a surreal experience of one walking through a ghost town. All of these structures can be altered, reconstructed and tailor-made to suit different settings required for filming. The creative sets and the natural attributes of the surroundings are the obvious attractions of the park, which is frequented by visitors including scores of students sometimes in the hundreds to experience its many features. "This would be a great strength to the film and television industry of Sri Lanka in the future," says Ravindra Guruge, renowned film and television editor. He further adds that the creative sets would present a practical solution in providing a variety of sets whereas filming at certain ‘real locations' would sometimes pose obstacles in gaining access and permissions such as at airports. While still in the final stages of the first phase of the project, the second phase promises an underwater studio equipped with waterproof cameras, additional creative sets, a drama school and a railway track.

The complete project of three phases has proved to be a challenging undertaking. However its successful implementation and development has been ascertained as a result of the varied expertise sought from the onset, which include engineers, architects, art directors, film makers, directors and producers, states Mr. Ganegala. A board of control while running the administrative functions, the maintenance and upkeep of the park are ensured by Navy personnel who are often seen in brisk activity in the park's premises. Ranmihithenne, once fully completed is with the ambitious hope of delivering a plethora of every imaginable convenience for filmmaking and television production concentrated in one scenic and convenient location. It is in essence a cinema village.

Photographs courtesy: Ministry of Mass Media and Information, Ravindra Guruge and Menaka Aravinda

 

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    The replica of a traditional Sri Lankan wayside resting place – Ambalama

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    A traditional village shop

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    Replication of buildings from various towns around the country

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    ‘B’ type room

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    Canteen

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    The replication of the Main Street in Colombo

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    From left: Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, W. B. Ganegala, Secretary, Ministry of Mass Media and Information, veteran actress Malini Fonseka, Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Minister G. L. Peiris during the opening ceremony

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    A dance act performed during the opening of the Tele-Cinema Park

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