A Song of Ceylon

Laleen Jayamanne

02/08 - 12/08/2023

A Song of Ceylon (51 min., 1985) is a study of colonialism, gender, and the body. It stages and interprets a Sri Lankan ritual of spirit possession and cure, and takes the form of a stylised non-narrative film that presents an audio-visual montage of “possessed bodies.” Its title refers to Basil Wright’s 1934 documentary The Song of Ceylon about the then British colony of Ceylon, renamed Sri Lanka in 1972. Invoking the idea of absence and of history withdrawn, Jayamanne’s film pursues a rite of the body.

A Song of Ceylon is shown in the context of The Work We Share, a film program of ten newly digitized films from the Cinenova collection. Produced between 1972 and 1994, the films address oppositional histories and questions of difference through the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, health, and community.

The Work We Share gathers a number of films that previously existed in precarious conditions, in some cases, with negatives being lost or distribution film prints being the only copy. This program intends to acknowledge Cinenova’s interdependency: from organization to filmmakers, cultural workers, communities, and individuals. How can we acknowledge our interdependent relationships? How can we recognize our place in a network of communications, relationships, and resources, particularly as an un-funded volunteer organization? What different strains of labor does our work rely on? How do we sustain this work mutually?

Cinenova is a volunteer-run charity preserving and distributing the work of feminist film and video makers. It was founded in 1991 following the merger of two feminist film and video distributors, Circles and Cinema of Women, each formed in 1979. Cinenova currently distributes over 300 titles that include artists’ moving image, experimental film, narrative feature films, documentary, and educational videos made from the 1910s to the early 2000s.

Laleen Jayamanne taught Cinema Studies at the University of Sydney. Her undergraduate education was in Sri Lanka and she has a Masters in Drama from New York University and a Ph.D. in film from the University of New South Wales, on “The Positions of Women in the Sri Lankan Cinema; 1947-1979.” She is the author of The Epic Cinema of Kumar Shahani (Indiana University Press, 2015) and The Poetic Cinema and the Spirit of the Gift in the Films of Pabst, Paradjanov, Kubrick and Ruiz (Amsterdam University Press, 2021).

01Laleen Jayamanne, A Song of Ceylon (still), 1985. Courtesy of the artist and Cinenova.



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