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Diaspora Diaries Reflections of the Filmmaker

Diaspora Diaries Reflections of the Filmmaker

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Oct 26, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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- on 10/26/2013
is a documentary filmmaker and narrative journalist.He was born in Jaffna, grew up in London, and returned to Sri Lanka in 2005. This year,
commissioned Kannan to make filmed portraits of Sri Lankan diaspora members, to illustrate the potential of diaspora to inspire peace and reconciliation in their countries of heritage. Inthis piece, Kannan takes us behind the scenes of Diaspora Diaries
”, andshares his own story.I was just a ten-year-old boy living in London whenBlack July– thecommunal riots of 1983 – plunged Sri Lanka into decades of civil war.My father had given me a red t-shirt to wear. It had “Genocide in Sri Lanka”printed on the front, with a grim slogan that shouted “Burnt alive Sri Lankastyle” on the back, over an outline of the island in flames. I didn’t reallyknow what genocide meant, but my parents took me with them to theprotests taking place in London at the time.On my last visit to my parents’ home, I searched for the red t-shirt andfound it buried among some old clothes in a cardboard box in the loft. I’dforgotten that I still had it and yet it struck me that, even as a child, it hadmattered enough to me to keep it all those years ago.
Many diaspora I’ve met tell me how they often wonder how they mighthave turned out had they not left Sri Lanka. But for me it’s a differentquestion. I often ask myself what I would have been like had I not movedback to Sri Lanka. The answer is complicated. These memories and experiences have moulded my ideas about identity,the conflict and Sri Lanka. Returning to Sri Lanka eight years ago addedanother layer of complexity to these perspectives.I wanted to ask other diaspora about their experiences and about theiridentity. Did they feel British or Sri Lankan? What did they think about theconflict back home? Indeed, was it really their home?
Exploring thediaspora’sdiversity
Back in Sri Lankathe diaspora candraw very differentreactions. Thecommon viewconcerns the diasporic Tamils who are considered a monolithic, single-minded group, whose only purpose is to anger and provoke the Sri Lankangovernment. But I knew that it was more complicated than that. There is a Sinhala and Muslim diaspora, and within the Tamil diaspora, evenfrom talking to my own family, I knew there are many viewpoints. Thediaspora are a diverse and dynamic community and I wanted to explore
some of that diversity.I was back in London on an assignment for International Alert to collect theperspectives of a cross-section of the diaspora. My journey would take mearound the homes of different individuals living in London, to events in thediaspora calendar, as well as to meet those returning to Sri Lanka.
Making Diaspora Diaries
I knew that I could tell only part of the story but I was especially keen onmeeting those who held strong views on accountability in Sri Lanka. Thosewho had reservations on whether to engage with Sri Lanka at all and whofelt that they were not ready for reconciliation. I wanted to hear their side of the story and to understand why they felt that way. The series of filmed portraits I made eventually became the
, looking at ways in which the diaspora engaged with Sri Lanka.
Nikini Jayatunga: A young voice for reconciliation
My assignment began with an initiative of 
– aLondon-based group that uses art and culture as a way of bringingcommunities together and talking about the conflict.Niki – who is Sinhalese, born and raised in England – asked me to showsome of my work at aneventshe was hosting at the
ideas resonated with my work in Sri Lanka and so I agreed totake part. The event went well – the audience had been supportive andthere was a lively discussion after a show and tell of work by artists, writersand filmmakers. But I did sense that I was preaching to the choir. Thereweren’t any diaspora in the audience with more vociferous views –individuals I was hoping to meet and interview for my series of films.
Paul Sathianesan: From refugee to deputy mayor
Days later, I visited Newham, a Tamil diaspora heartland in East London tomeet its local councilor, Paul Sathianesan, who came to the UK in the 1980sas a war refugee.We sat and talked in a Tamil-run café opposite Newham tube station. Paultold me about the dilemmas he faced in his work as councilor. He often feltconflicted. Although many of his constituents wanted him to take a firmerstance on the question of accountability, he felt that he could not single outone perspective. I’m sure that being a Tamil made these decisions thatmuch harder for him.

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