A review by Nandi Jasentuliyana,
Former Deputy Director-General of the United Nations.

A Spectacular Celebration of Global Cinema, Ceylon Film Festival Awards Ceremony 2023, was held recently in Santa Barbara, California, U.S.A., the city of arts and culture, originally the home of Hollywood.

A weeklong festival supported by the State of California, the City of Santa Barbara, and the Direct Relief Foundation culminated with the award ceremony. A week during which the Sri Lankan flag was flown at the venue and was in full display the entire week of the festival in Santa Barbara, California.

The Ceylon Film Festival 2023 is the brainchild of Aruni Boteju, Founder of the Ceylon International Film Festival Corporation, which held its inaugural festival in 2022. The festival this year played host to a remarkable event that brought together the best talents from around the world. It was a grand celebration of global cinema, showcasing the best of the 350 outstanding films, short films, documentaries, and animations that were submitted for the competition. The grandeur and elegance of the location, the historic Lobero Theatre, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, perfectly complemented the calibre of talent that awaited the audience inside.

The Awards Ceremony began with an air of excitement as film enthusiasts gathered to witness the culmination of exceptional cinematic achievements. This prestigious event not only recognized outstanding films but also celebrated diverse cultures through mesmerizing performances. The ceremony was interspersed with performances by singers and dancers from India, Sri Lanka, Spain, and America. With its unique presentations and stunning performances, this event left an indelible mark on both attendees and participants alike.

The evening kicked off with a captivating performance by Indian singers who effortlessly transported the audience into a world filled with soulful melodies and rhythmic beats. Their powerful voices resonated through every corner of the venue, leaving everyone in awe.

Not to be outdone, inspiring performances by Indian artists who captivated audiences with their traditional dance forms like Bharatanatyam and Kathak. Their intricate footwork, graceful movements, and expressive storytelling transported viewers to another world. The fusion of Indian classical music with contemporary beats added a modern twist to these timeless art forms, leaving everyone mesmerized.

Sri Lankan performers took center stage next with their vibrant dances that reflected their rich cultural heritage. The rhythmic drumbeat music and colorful costumes created an energetic atmosphere that had spectators tapping their feet in unison. These talented artists showcased their deep connection to their roots while embracing innovation in their choreography.

The Spanish performers brought a fiery passion to the stage with their flamenco dancing. The intense footwork combined with soulful guitar melodies created a captivating atmosphere filled with raw emotion. The audience was enthralled as they witnessed the rich traditions of Latin American dance forms unfold before their eyes.

Throughout the evening, the energy in the auditorium was palpable. The audience, consisting of film industry professionals, celebrities, and film enthusiasts from around the world, was treated to a feast for their senses. Their performances were a testament to the diversity and creativity that the arts scene has to offer.

The performances were seamlessly intertwined with the recognition of outstanding films and filmmakers, creating a harmonious celebration of both visual and performing arts. The ceremony honored exceptional filmmakers whose work had touched hearts and left an indelible mark on audiences worldwide.

Celebrating Excellence, among the Awards Night winners, Japan, China, and India emerged as shining stars, taking home multiple prestigious awards, while Sri Lanka won the Grand Prix for “The Genius Of The Place” by Afdhel Aziz. Recognizing exceptional performances, Sarthy from India was awarded Best Actor for his captivating portrayal in “Ezhuthalar.” The title of Best Actress went to Kana Shimizu from Japan for her mesmerizing performance in “Happy Ending.” In the realm of direction, Passos Zamith from Portugal claimed the Best Director Award for his captivating work in “Me & Myself.” Meanwhile, 

Akira Iwamatsu’s masterpiece “Happy Ending” took home the highly acclaimed Best Picture Award. Sri Lanka secured additional accolades throughout the night, winning awards for Best Sound Mixing by Sashin Gimahn for “Seeds,” Best Production Design by Suneth Malinga also for “Seeds,” and Best Editor for “The Genius Of The Place” by Vu and Hayden Blaz.

Two Sri Lankan icons in the industry were honored with Lifetime  Achievement Awards. Bhadraji Jayatilleka, a Producer, Director, scriptwriter, and Actor, the screening of his latest film “A Rainy Day: closed the festival was recognized for his outstanding contribution to the industry as well as his work as an artist and prolific author of one hundred twenty-five books in Sinhala and English. Somarathna Dissanayake was honoured for his contribution to the industry as a Producer Director, and highly acclaimed for his outstanding drama series “Muwanpalassa,” which had a record-breaking run. These exceptional individuals have not only entertained us with their creative talents but have also inspired countless aspiring artists to pursue their dreams.

The Ceylon Film Festival Awards Ceremony not only showcased exceptional talent but also served as a platform for cultural exchange and appreciation. By bringing together artists from different corners of the globe, it highlighted the power of cinema in transcending borders and connecting people through shared experiences.

Present among the distinguished gathering at the opening and closing festivities were the Mayor and Mayor Protem of Santa Barbara, the representatives of the California State Senator, the CEO Of Direct Relief, the President of the Santa Barbara Hispanic Chamber, former Deputy Director-General of the United Nations Dr. Nandi Jasentuliyana, the Keynote Speaker at the awards ceremony,

As the night drew to a close, it was clear that this event would be etched in the memories of those fortunate enough to attend. The Ceylon International Film Festival Awards Ceremony succeeded in creating an atmosphere of celebration, artistic appreciation, and cultural exchange that will resonate long after the curtains have fallen.