Exposing the bigger picture in life | Daily News

Exposing the bigger picture in life

Surely, the World is now bored of stereotypical eastern stories of arranged marriages set in exotic locations, family pride and marital abuse. So, it’s time to get with the times and expand the industry’s repertoire to include other equally important subjects.

Film director Rehan Mudannayake is part of an exciting new take on telling a story using film to focus on the details to expose the bigger picture of life. Born in a paradise island, where story telling is a way of life and life has never been easy Sri Lanka, a country that has had everything thrown at it: the Curse of Kuveini, Colonisation, the JVP, the Civil War, the 2004 tsunamis, the Easter bombings and now, just as it was getting back on its feet again like Rocky Balboa, the global Covid lockdown and in the case of the island a total lock out.

Time for a reset? No fear! We don’t need no extra security, health passports or thought control, we need great Directors with great messages that attest to the human spirit and its ability to triumph in the face of disaster and appeal to our deepest sentiments and understanding. Rehan’s new film DIDI, picked for the Academy-Award-Qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival from 6000 submissions, coming soon, is a great story about a British Indian woman who is faced with a momentous decision when she is reunited with her estranged sister. A simple enough and not particularly seismic sounding plot, but it’s the way you tell it, what you bring into it and who the characters are that really makes the story. Here, we have a tale that reunites two sisters, in a moving short film of universal appeal. The cast and crew were overwhelmingly diverse: 60 percent were people of colour and 60-70 percent were women. As Rehan says, “I really can’t stress how important it is to build diversity and inclusion into your cast and crew: not only does this provide more opportunities and create a level playing field, but it enriches the art itself. One of society’s great strengths is in its diversity; this is something to be celebrated and reflected in the films we make and watch.”

While diverse talents are essential, he rates honesty just as highly, as being essential to authenticity in acting, “if it didn’t feel true to the story or the characters, we excluded it.” So, in addition to this, his advice to aspiring writers is, “write stories that are personal to you: this is the key to making powerful cinema. Also, write for yourself first, and your audience second.”

This brings us on neatly to his casting Humaira Iqbal as the estranged older sister, who displayed just what he and his casting team wanted, “she blew us away with her vulnerability and honesty: her performance was so nuanced and moving that the three of us – the other two being Radhika (the writer) and Sonia (the producer) – cast her on the spot. It was one of the best decisions we made.”

Humaira is an incredibly accomplished actress, who has written and performed plays for the Arcola and Royal Court, amongst others.

The film is set in London but to find an authentic home for the character, Tamanna, was quite a challenge until the writer’s family offered their beautiful house in Bounds Green. The Brixton Pound fulfilled the needs for the second set – a cafe – and was ideal for shooting film footage in many ways.

On its way to Hollywood next week, one has to ask how it must be, rubbing shoulders with other great talents in the industry? “We’re thrilled to be screening at Hollyshorts. Academy Award-Qualifying film festivals are extremely selective, and thus attract top talent agents and powerful industry heads, all looking for the next big director. This is where many filmmakers have gotten their big break. It’s also a chance to network with some of the most talented filmmakers in the business.” They are all clearly thrilled with the prospects.

So, who are the industry talents that inspire him? Stanley Kubrick (2001, Eyes Wide Shut) was his first major influence at age 16; he is still in awe of his meticulous attention to detail, and versatility. Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) followed soon after, “His work contains a sublime craftsmanship unrivaled by any other contemporary American director. His films are so multilayered, that each viewing unearths a new discovery. I also adore Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Boyhood); in my opinion, the greatest living screenwriter. Linklater explores the human condition in such a visceral, tangible way, that one feels like a changed person after each viewing. The ending of Boyhood in particular was a conscious influence on DIDI’s sparse dialogue and controlled style.” He’s also a huge fan of Federico Fellini, Satyajit Ray and Wes Anderson. How far they have influenced him is immeasurable; he says, “I’ve continually attempted to incorporate elements of each filmmaker’s style into my own oeuvre.”

Regarding Rehan’s past, it seems he is still close with his school friends and has had many since who support and inspire him, while he feels grateful to the two schools he attended, all of which have influenced his success. He clearly enjoyed other aspects of school, too, and talks nostalgically about some guerilla style shorts he shot there (with his best friend) on various notorious students and their anarchic/hilarious plans to overthrow the institution and dominate the world: “We screened these films at my best friend’s wedding ten years later - his wife was pretty shocked. Thankfully, they’re still together (I think).”

Not only is he a great Director, but Rehan is also one of the lead roles in Oscar-nominee Deepa Mehta’s ‘Funny Boy’, which was shot in Sri Lanka.

“We’ve been picked up by Ava duVernay’s ARRAY Now, an independent distribution company, and will premiere on Netflix this December 10th.” Keep your eyes peeled for Sri Lanka’s hottest new actor with his powerfully engaging performance in Funny Boy, as well as hugely talented short film director with DIDI!

The World is clearly his oyster but where to live? “Wherever the world of cinema takes me! I’ve been lucky that my work has gone international after being shown at multiple film festivals. My objective is to keep telling Sri Lankan stories, whether here or abroad. The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped the industry, but there is an abundance of talent here – both young, and established. I have high hopes for the film industry’s future.” He should do as even his smaller documentaries on Colombo Walks with YAMU or island architecture have inspired quite the following, as documentaries, and like so many travel related films have influenced people to visit places off the beaten track, like Alex Garlands portrayal in the movie The Beach, which resulted in hordes of people going to Thailand and Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider inspired millions to put Cambodia on their bucket travel list. If DIDI wins I wonder just how many people will after seeing the film go to Bounds Green and Brixton in London in search of the two sisters and their fascinating lives directed by Sri Lankan born Rehan Mudannayake, who it seems intuitively knows how to show the depth and detail of peoples lives.