In the Sri Lanka (until 1971 Ceylon, colony of Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain and independent since 1948), cinema, mainly due to competition from Indian productions, only developed at the end of the 1940s, after independence of the country; it had a commercial character, but there was no lack of interesting and original works of authorship.
According to youremailverifier, the first screenings took place in 1901; in 1903 the Indian company Madan Theaters opened a chain of cinemas, and retained control of distribution and operations until 1928. Only Indian films circulated until 1947, when the three main Sinhalese distribution companies (Ceylon Theaters, Ceylon Studios and Ceylon Entertainement) extended their business to manufacturing. In the absence of local studios, their films were initially shot in Madras (South India) with Indian directors and technicians but Sinhalese scriptwriters and actors. Taken from traditional local dramas (naadagan) or from Indian texts of the Parsi theater, they had a structure similar to that of the more commercial Indian films: a very melodramatic and moralistic sentimental story, in which the wealthy class was represented in a satirical key, and which was shot with fixed shots where action, dance and song were mixed. The first film in this genre is BAW Jayamanne’s Kadawunu poronduwa (1947, The Broken Promise).
Two years later, Sirisena Wilamaweera’s Amma (Mother), still shot in India, marked the birth of auteur cinema. Wilamaweera in 1951 created the first Sinhalese soundstages (the Navajeevana Film Studios) and rejected the Indian cultural model, drawing with subsequent films (Seedevi, 1951, Amoruccio; Saradiel, 1954, The Bandit of the Woods; Asoka, 1955; Podi putha, 1955, The youngest son) a significant journey in search of the cultural and historical origins of the country.
The opening in 1956 of the Lanka and Vijaya studios allowed a strong increase in national production. However, Indian films continued to account for around two thirds of the market. 1956 also saw the debut of Lester James Peiris, also known as Peries, destined to become the most important director in the history of Sinhala cinema. Rekawa (Destiny), influenced by Neorealism and the English documentary school, was the first local film entirely shot outdoors and starring non-professional actors, and also the first to be presented at an international festival (in this case Cannes). It is a work of great commitment not only for the evocative atmospheres linked to the rural environment, but also for the careful investigation of social and human relationships. Peiris later directed a another capital work, Gamperaliya (1963, The changing village), which in 1965 earned him the first prize at the Indian International Film Festival in New Delhi: a film that broke deeply with the then current narrative models, and in which a world poised between the collapse of feudal models and the emergence of a new social order. It paved the way for other works that investigated the daily life of the countryside, such as Parasathu mal (1966, The flowers of others) by Gamini Fonseka, Sath samudura (1967, The Seven Seas) by Siri Gunasinghe, Hantane kathawa (1969, History of the mount Hanthana) by Sugathapala Senerath Yapa, Ves gaththo (1970, Mascherata) by Vasantha Obeysekera.
In 1972 the State Film Corporation (SFC) was created, which monopolized the import and distribution, and promoted the development of production. In this way, quality works were financed such as Nidhanaya, also known as The treasure (1972) by Peiris, presented at the Venice Film Festival, Ahas Gawwa (1974, Una lingua di cielo) by Dharmasena Pathiraja, Gehenu lamai (1978, Girls) by Sumithra Peiris (wife of the director), Palangetiya (1979, Grasshoppers) of Obeysekera.
Since the 1980s Sinhalese cinema has entered a phase of crisis, both for the introduction of television and subsequently for home video, and for the liberalization of the market, with the consequent decrease in support for national production by the SFC. (renamed the National Film Corporation), while the armed conflict between the Sinhalese community and the Tamil minority has affected every aspect of the life of the country, also affecting the development of cinema. However, a new generation of directors has emerged who, with their works, represent hitherto unprecedented themes, such as ethnic conflicts, unemployment, corruption. Among others, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake (Hansa vilak, 1980, Swan Lake), Chandra Rutnam (Adara kathawa, 1984.