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Rajee Samarasinghe is a filmmaker working between California and Sri Lanka, from which he emigrated as an adolescent amid the civil war—the long shadow of which looms over many of his films. This program presents 11 of his films from a prolific decade of moving-image making, from early works completed at CalArts in 2014 to a trio of films completed in 2021 during quarantine, films that inhabit the liminal space between Earth and the spirit world, heavy with grief, trauma, and the past slipping into the future. His nonfiction practice explores and deconstructs portraiture, ethnography, and narrative, while upending traditional Western avant-garde aesthetics through digital image making. Continually pushing the bounds of his own formal exploration, experiments in sound and silence, aspect ratio, and color and light showcase the seemingly limitless potential of digital experimentation. Samarasinghe works from a vast personal archive of accumulated footage, editing some films years after filming or reusing footage seen in previous films. This push and pull of time creates a way of reconciling and recontextualizing memories of the past, creating and re-creating home movies of displacement. Through profoundly heavy subject matter, his camera manages to find the flickering of light, searching for healing and remembrance.
Samarasinghe writes, “One of my earliest memories is of burnt human flesh in newspaper halftones wrapped around a breakfast pastry purchased for me by my mother at the local marketplace. I can remember associating the flesh with the smell of bread which made me ill—though it did make me aware of a certain logic that had to do with pictures. In 1983, Prabhakaran rallied his band of rebels and civil war was declared in Sri Lanka. What rose was a culture saturated with analogous images of pain. Coercive imagery removed from any larger sociopolitical context—propaganda machines teaching the visually illiterate how to see. My first experiment in video adapted aspects of Susan Sontag’s text Regarding the Pain of Others by exploring modes of othering pain through the formal abstraction of a snuff film. I was spurred by a curiosity which had to do with the capacity of images to be transmuted. This became a method of exercising some control over the images and structures fixed onto my brain. My work often aims at dismantling hegemonic structures found in the culture of image consumption and exposing oppressive systems of powers.”
Show Me Other Places. 2021. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 12 min.
everyday star. 2018. Sri Lanka/USA/China. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 9 min. Silent
The Queen of Material. 2014. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 2 min.
FOREIGN QUARTERS / 异乡居所 / YI XIANG JU SUO. 2017. Sri Lanka/China/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 15 min.
Misery Next Time. 2021. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 5 min.
The Spectre Watches Over Her. 2016. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 14 min. Silent
the past. 2021. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 5 min. Silent
The Exile / පිටුවහලයා / Piṭuvahalayā. 2018. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 8 min. Silent and sound
If I Were Any Further Away I’d Be Closer to Home. 2016. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 15 min. Silent
Untitled. 2019. Sri Lanka/USA/China. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 4 min.
black widow summer set. 2015. Sri Lanka/USA. Directed by Rajee Samarasinghe. 8 min.
Program approximately 95 min.
Virtual Cinema is not available to Annual Pass members. Virtual Cinema screenings are not available outside the US.