Sri Lankan director seeks mileage at Dubai



DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- There can be little doubt that the name on everyone's lips at the 2007 Dubai International Film Festival has been George Clooney. The star breezed into Dubai and up the red carpet with the pomp and majesty reserved for only Hollywood royalty. Cameras flashed, women swooned, and excited onlookers wished it was them on the crimson rug instead of standing behind barriers.

Yet for some, making a movie isn't all glamorous Tinseltown fun. Away from Gorgeous George, et al. lies a generation of filmmakers who are trying nothing more than to have someone -- anyone -- watching their movies.

Sri Lankan director Salinda Perera is at DIFF as part of the Cinema of Asia program (expanded this year to include Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). His movie "Dheevari" (Fisherman's Daughter) originally began shooting in 1995, yet it was only at the tail end of last year that he was able to call it complete.

" 'Dheevari' was self-financed," the California-based Perera said. "That was one of the problems why it took over 10 years to make. I had an inheritance in Sri Lanka, and came up with some of the money, but I had a partner who couldn't come up with his side."

With his financial partner facing debts, and unable to pay the movie lab for a number of years, the rushes sat in a cupboard until an editor based with the company discovered them.

"He did a rough cut of the movie," Perera said with a smile, "and then contacted me saying, 'You've got to come back and finish this film -- it's really good.' "

Using cash earned from his day job in the art department of a Los Angeles ad agency, Perera joined the festival trail, where he hopes the exposure will enable him to claw back some cash to finance future movie projects.

"My main goal is to get some mileage out of this," Perera said. "Because that was one of my problems, too -- I've never really had anything to show anyone what I had done. And, of course, there's the financial side. If I make even $50,000 from this movie, then that would be truly amazing, and beyond all my expectations."

Another director hoping for big things for his movie is Enamul Karim Nirjhar. The Bangladeshi filmmaker, whose movie "Aha!" also was showing in the Cinema of Asia program, already is resigned to losing money on his self-financed venture.

"I'll only make back about 80% of the money I put up," he manages to say with a genuine smile.

Remarkably, Nirjhar has spent the last 12 years working as an architect in order to finance his dream.

"I only saw the movie camera for the first time two days before we started shooting," he laughs. "But I was confident. The crew was a bit confused, but by the second day they were OK. I shot everything with my (still) camera, and told them, 'I want it like this.' "

Before showing in Dubai, "Aha!" was picked up by an Indian TV channel, which helped the director make his 80%.

Clooney's latest movie, "Michael Clayton," which was released at the start of October, had grossed an estimated $38 million before DIFF even began.