Serendib Quiz: Dawn of a new era of quizzing on the island of Serendib

Quizmaster Nalaka Gunawardene smiles — is it because he knows ALL the answers? Photo by Dhara Gunawardene

I just finished hosting the first edition of Serendib Quiz, a new live quizzing event in Sri Lanka.

Here’s a short promo text we produced just after the event:

A team of private individuals, called the ‘Invictus Team’, emerged overall winners at the inaugural Serendib Quiz held at the Galadari Hotel, Colombo, on 29 July 2012.

Invictus beat 40 other teams from all over Sri Lanka to win the top prize of Rs. 100,000 and the specially designed Serendib Quiz glass trophy.

Two other individual teams – Chamara Sumanapala’s Team and Imran Furkan’s Team – secured second and third places respectively.

A total of 205 players, in 41 teams, took part in this live quizzing event compiled and hosted by Nalaka Gunawardene, a leading quizzing professional. Participants’ ages ranged from 13 to 65 years. Many teams came from schools, banks and private companies while a number of quiz enthusiasts competed as private teams.

The team representing Dharmaraja College, Kandy, was the winner in the educational category, followed by Ananda College and the Royal College A Team. All members of these teams received British Council Library gold memberships, in addition to book vouchers and books.

Srilankan Airlines came first in the corporate category, while Seylan Bank was the winner in among banks and financial institutions.

Serendib Quiz was organised by Quiz World (Pvt) Limited and sponsored by Commercial Credit PLC in partnership with Sarasavi Bookshop (Pvt) Limited, Fast Ads (Pvt) Limited, the British Council, BT Options, TVE Asia Pacific and Kent Holdings.

Serendib Quiz involved 50 questions from all areas of knowledge, local and global, presented in five rounds. Contestants worked simultaneously in teams to write out answers that were immediately marked by a three-member judging panel.

Full press release and lots of images at: http://quizworldlanka.com/2012/07/30/invictus-team-wins-the-first-serendib-quiz-with-nalaka-gunawardene/

Victorious Invictus Team flanked by Vindana Ariyawansa (extreme left) and Nalaka Gunawardene (extreme right) – Photo by Dhara Gunawardene

Ray Wijewardene website launched: Paying it forward…

We launched the Ray Wijewardene website at the British Council Colombo on September 28 evening to a packed house of friends and well-wishers. My colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera and I introduced the site – product of months of work. Here are my opening remarks:

Nalaka Gunawardene introduces Ray Wijewardene website at British Council Colombo, 28 Sep 2011 - photo by Dhanushka Fernando

Introduction to the Ray Wijewardene website:
by Nalaka Gunawardene, Director, TVE Asia Pacific

It’s a privilege for me and my colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific to have built the Ray Wijewardene website as an entirely voluntary effort.

This is our DIGITAL TRIBUTE to Ray Wijewardene, an outstanding scientist and thinker, not just of Sri Lanka, but of the entire developing world. On top of that, Ray was also a good friend and supporter of our own development communication work for many years. This is our way of PAYING IT FORWARD!

Looking back, I can say that this website was conceived in a moment of frustration and outrage. Let me explain!

When Ray passed away in August last year, there was very little SPECIFIC information about him anywhere on the World Wide Web. And there were ONLY a couple of good photographs online, which most newspapers and websites used when reporting on his death. They really had no choice!

In the days and weeks that followed, many warm tributes appeared in our newspapers. These shared precious memories and anecdotes about Ray. But I couldn’t help noticing that many lacked specifics, and some even had inaccuracies…probably inadvertent? Some didn’t even spell his name correctly!

We all know how Ray led a very productive and creative life — but it was not easy to find specific and accurate information about his thinking and many accomplishments. The reality these days is that if Google can’t find you, millions will never get to know about you!

I wanted to bridge this info gap as fast as possible!

So when I joined the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust as a Trustee, I offered to build a website as our first activity. We had no dedicated funds, but we just went ahead on a VOLUNTARY BASIS — relying on GOODWILL and IN-KIND contributions from many, e.g.
• We pooled information from Ray’s family members and friends;
• We sourced images from family and professional contacts; and
• We asked a few to write about different facets of Ray’s work/play.

This is what we call a NO-BUDGET ACTIVITY! We’ve harnessed the collaborative spirit very common on the Web. And we thank to all who joined this collaborative effort! They’re too many to mention by name – they know who they are…

Part of audience at the launch of Ray Wijewardene website, 28 Sep 2011 - Photo by Ruveen Mandawala

My colleagues at TVE Asia Pacific worked long and hard to weave all this material into the website that we launch today. As with all our products, we aim this at the interested non-specialist. We’ve tried to keep it simple, concise and engaging – we know that web visitors have very short the attention spans!

Let me ask my colleague Nadeeja Abeyasekera, who built this website, to take you on a quick tour…to entice you to browse more at your leisure!

In my view, a website is never really finished…so we will continue to add new content and links to this as and when necessary to keep it current and relevant. We also solicit more information and images from all of you, some of which can be published on this website and the rest can support the research effort for the proposed biography.

Nadeeja Abeyasekera (in yellow) & Nalaka Gunawardene take questions fron the audience

More images at http://www.facebook.com/RayWijewardene

Wildlife and Natural History Film making: Are Darwinian Rules at play?

Wildscreen 2011 Colombo Panel: From L to R - Taya Diaz, Amanda Theunissen, Delon Weerasinghe, Anoma Rajakaruna, Dominic Weston and Nalaka Gunawardene

Is there an elite or ‘charmed’ circle of wildlife and natural history film makers in the world? If so, how does a new film maker break into this circle?

This is the question I posed to a group of visiting British film makers and their Sri Lankan counterparts during a panel discussion I moderated at the British Council Colombo on February 17 evening.

The panel, organised around the topic ‘Differences and mutual challenges in Asian, American and European productions/film making’, was part of the Wildscreen traveling film festival held hosted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from 17 to 19 February 2011.

Amanda Theunissen, who has worked with the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic Television, gave a straight answer: yes, there is such a charmed circle.

And although she didn’t say it in so many words, it was clear from our overall discussions that the circle is jealously guarded, and it’s not easy for any newcomer to break into it. And the entry barrier becomes harder if the film maker is from the global South.

I opened the panel recalling the opening sentence of Our Common Future, the 1987 Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development: “The Earth is one but the world is not”. I said: “A similar disparity exists in wildlife and natural history film making. We are all covering the same planet Earth in all its splendour and diversity. But on this planet there are many different worlds of film making.”

I asked my five panelists — Amanda Theunissen and Dominic Weston from the UK, and Delon Weerasinghe, Anoma Rajakaruna, and Taya Diaz from Sri Lanka — to address three key challenges faced by all wildlife and natural history film makers everywhere: the art of effective story telling; fund raising to make films; and ensuring wide distribution of the films made.

The panel discussion was lively, wide-ranging and engaged the audience which comprised mostly aspiring film makers or film students. I didn’t want our discussion to scare any of them away from a career in environment and wildlife film making. But at the same time, we wanted to acknowledge the practical realities — and disparities — that exist within and across countries in this respect.

I’ve now written up a summary of the panel discussion for TVE Asia Pacific news. Its heading comes from a provocative question I asked during the panel: does wildlife film making operate on almost Darwinian rules?

Read the full story: Wildlife and Natural History Film making: Survival of the Fittest?

Wildscreen Colombo Panel: From L to R - Taya Diaz, Amanda Theunissen, Delon Weerasinghe, Anoma Rajakaruna, Dominic Weston, Nalaka Gunawardene

Remembering Sir Arthur Clarke on his second death anniversary

It’s exactly two years since Sir Arthur C Clarke abandoned his 91st orbit around the Sun and headed to the stars. That was on 19 March 2008.

A public meeting to commemorate Sir Arthur was held on 17 March 2010 afternoon at the British Council Colombo. The event was jointly organised by the Sri Lanka Astronomical Association (SLAA) and the Arthur C Clarke Estate in partnership with the British Council.

I gave an illustrated talk titled ‘Sir Arthur C Clarke: Man Who Lived in the Future’. We had an eager audience of 65 – 70 persons. Here are some photos from the occasion – a more detailed blog post will follow.

Nalaka Gunawardene giving Sir Arthur C Clarke memorial talk (photos above & below), 17 Marc 2010, British Councl Colombo

Thilina Heeatigala, General Secretary of SLAA, introducing the programme

Michael Snowden asking a question

The talk will be followed by the screening of feature film 2010: The Year We Make Contact (116 mins, 1984). Directed by Peter Hyams on a screenplay co-written by Peter Hyams and Arthur C Clarke, the film starred Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren and Keir Dullea. This is the movie adaptation of the best selling science fiction novel 2010: Odyssey Two that Arthur C Clarke wrote in 1982.

All photos by Amal Samaraweera, TVE Asia Pacific

Where are all the women cartoonists hiding?

Shamanthi Rajasingham receiving her first prize in climate cartoon contest Sri Lanka


“So how many women cartoonists are working in our newspapers?”

My daughter Dhara, 13, asked me this simple question earlier this month when I was involved in judging Sri Lanka’s first contest of cartoons on climate change, organised by the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK.

I tried to come up with an answer, and couldn’t think of a single woman cartoonist who works for a print or online media outlet in Sri Lanka. That, despite my long association with the media and also being a great admirer (and collector) of good cartoons.

Later that day, at the awards ceremony for winning and commended climate cartoonists, I posed the same question to leading Lankan cartoonists Wasantha Siriwardena, Winnie Hettigoda and Dharshana Karunatilleke. They too couldn’t name one immediately; later, a single name was mentioned but it’s not one I recognised.

Clearly, cartooning is still a very male dominated profession — but that might soon change, going by the active participation of young women in the climate change cartoon contest.

Shamanthi Rajasingham

In fact, the first and third prize winners were both women — respectively Shamanthi Rajasingham and W M D Nishani. They beat close to 200 other contestants to get there.

Additionally, there were 6 women among the 22 commended cartoonists, and one woman among those 11 who were highly commended — judged on four criteria. See all winning and commended entries.

W M D Nishani

Okay, the four judges were all male (among us, two professional cartoonists). But during this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we discovered the names (and gender) of artists only at the awards ceremony.

This would be encouraging news to Dhara and all other aspiring young girls and women who want to pursue careers in media. Let’s hope at least some of the women contestants in the climate cartoons contest would end up being more than just hobby cartoonists…

Meanwhile, it’s not just Sri Lanka that has a shortage of women engaged in cartooning, and awareness of their contribution is lacking. A quick Google search brought up a book titled “The Great Women Cartoonists” by Trina Robbins (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001). Reviewing it in TIME, Andrew D Arnold wrote: “Name three women cartoonists who worked from 1900 to 1950. Okay, just name one. Couldn’t do it? Neither could I until reading a new, invaluable book…”

Cartooning on climate change: Young artists rise to the challenge

Cartoon contest top prize winners with British Council director and chief guest (all front row) and four judges (all back row) at awards ceremony, Colombo 6 March 2010

Man-made climate change is a complex planetary phenomenon. It has multiple causes and effects – not all of it immediately evident. Different areas of the world are going to be impacted differently and unevenly. Human response to the climate challenge has been patchy, and is mired in so much denial, rhetoric and political posturing.

So how do we capture this multiplicity in visual forms? Photographers go for the evidence and authenticity. Film makers work on both current impacts and future scenarios. What about cartoonists – who have to do their visual metaphors in a limited space that is static and two-dimensional? How much of climate change’s nuance and complexity can they really grasp and convey?

The short answer is: a great deal. On this blog, I’ve written that when it comes to cartoons, less is definitely more. Take, for example, many millions of printed words and probably thousands of minutes of airtime generated around the (over-hyped and under-performing) Copenhagen climate conference in Dec 2009. As I noted in blog posts on 17 Dec, 18 Dec and 21 Dec 2009, it was assorted cartoonists from around the world who summed it all up in a few perceptive strokes. This is why I keep saying that when it comes to commenting on our topsy-turvy times, no one can beat cartoonists for their economy of words.

In late 2009, the British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK organised a cartoon contest on climate change which was open to all Lankan citizens from 18 to 35 years. They offered attractive prizes for anyone who could be ‘seriously funny’ about this global crisis. The participants could submit entries under 6 themes: drought and water shortage; deforestation and rain forest destruction; melting of the ice caps; role of industry in polluting the atmosphere; devastation of our seas and disappearance of marine life; and climate change in an urban environment.

Some 400 entries were received from 175 contestants (each person could submit up to 5 entries) – which surprised and delighted the organisers. During the past few weeks, I have been involved in judging these cartoons to select the top winners and commended entries. Joining me in this enjoyable task were nationally recognised professional cartoonist Wasantha Siriwardena and environmentalist Nimal Perera. We worked with a British counterpart, top cartoonist Michal Boncza Ozdowski.

Michal Boncza Ozdowski (L) and Wasantha Siriwardena conducting cartoon workshop

The winners were announced, with awards and certificates, on 6 March 2010. It coincided with a half-day workshop on cartooning conducted by Michal and Wasantha. The chief guest at the ceremony was Camillus Perera, the seniormost Lankan cartoonist still professionally active.

As national judges, we looked at close to 200 cartoon entries that conformed with the contest’s published rules for eligibility. Since comparative ranking of creative works is never easy, we first agreed on four criteria for assessing the very diverse entries: cartoon value and humour; subject relevance to climate change (defined broadly); how effectively the climate related message was being communicated; and clarity and artistic merit of the entry.

Our initial judging coincided with the climate circus in Copenhagen, when we narrowed it down to a shortlist of 40 entries. We then individually scored these cartoons for each of our four criteria. We sometimes had to discuss and demarcate how far the scope of the contest could stretch. For example, when is an entry a good work of art but not a cartoon (more like a poster)? And what are the acceptable limits in the thematic or subject coverage of a vast topic like climate change?

The British Council later shared the full shortlist with Michal Ozdowski, who provided his own rankings and comments. We met again in February 2010 to discuss and reconcile our rankings — and found that our separately done rankings broadly agreed! (Note: During this entire judging process, the identity of artists was withheld and we only knew each entry by a number. In fact, we judges discovered the names only on the day of the awards ceremony, to which all shortlisted contestants were invited.)

Additionally, Michal kindly offered crisp comments about the top three winners, which became citations at the awards ceremony. So here are the winners of climate change cartoon contest 2009:

First prize: Welcome to the North Pole! By by Shamanthi Rajasingham

First prize winning climate cartoon - by Shamanthi Rajasingham

Citation for first prize: It is uncomplicated – a great advantage when satirising. Its composition is strong and imaginative, the draughtsmanship confident.

Second Prize: “I pray for water, not nectar” by Dileepa Dolawatte

Second prize winning climate cartoon by Dileepa Dolawatte

Citation for second prize: Apart from the vibrant and highly accomplished draughtsmanship, it lampoons brilliantly the fairy’s naivety – a funny eye-opener. Incorporates very cleverly traditional beliefs and myths. Here we are truly past the dodgy miracles stage in the climate change battles…

Third Prize: Theme – Drought and water shortage, by W M D Nishani

Third prize winning climate cartoon by W M D Nishani

Citation for third prize: An eloquent, if over-didactic, strip cartoon – could be quite effective in women’s publications. Coherent draughtsmanship catalogues effectively the woes of a ‘get-rich-quick’ development.

See all the highly commended and commended entries on the British Council website.

Making fun of climate change: Calling all cartoonists…

Cartoon courtesy CSE India

My mentor Sir Arthur C Clarke was fond of saying that there is nothing too serious in this world that you can’t make fun of it. (He should know – he once wrote a funny story about the end of the world, the mother of all disasters!)

On this blog, I’ve written about creative efforts at being seriously funny – for example, making fun of HIV/AIDS, and poking fun at politicians through political satire on television.

I’ve also argued that, when it comes to commenting on our topsy-turvy times, no one can beat cartoonists for their economy of words. They offer us popular social philosophy that is piercing, witty and hilarious – all in an amazingly tiny space.

The British Council and the Ken Sprague Fund of UK are currently running a cartoon contest on climate change open to Sri Lankan citizens from 18 to 35 years. They offer attractive prizes for those who can be seriously funny about this global crisis. The award winning and commended entries are to be exhibited in Colombo and Kandy in March 2010.

The deadline for submitting entries is 7 December 2009. More details here.

Declaration of interest: As a long time admirer of cartoons, I have agreed to be on the national selection panel.

Animating and singing our way to a Low Carbon Future…

Low Carbon, High Priority

Low Carbon, High Priority

Some 100 world leaders are due to gather at the United Nations headquarters in New York this week for the highest level summit meeting on climate change ever convened.

As the New York Times reported: “In convening the meeting, the United Nations is hoping that collectively the leaders can summon the will to overcome narrow nationalinterests and give the negotiators the marching orders needed to cut at least the outline of a deal.”

Recognising climate change as one of the greatest social, economic, political and environmental challenges facing our generation, the British Council has launched the Low Carbon Futures project. It has focus on mitigating the effects of climate change in an urban environment. It is part of the British Council’s major global climate security project and India is, along with China, one of the top two priority countries for this work. Sri Lanka, with less than 2% of India’s population and correspondingly lower carbon emissions, is a lower priority.

One strand in the Low Carbon Futures project is to engage communications professionals – journalists, writers and film makers to help them better understand the issues around mitigation and get across key messages to readers/viewers more effectively.

As part of this project, the British Council collaborated with Music Television (MTV) to produce a music video and two viral video animations on climate friendly, low-carbon lifestyles.

British Council’s first Music Video on Climate Change produced by MTV features VJ Cyrus Sahukar. Combining animation, lyrics and melody, the video talks about how small individual actions can help conserve natural resources and save the climate. MTV VJs have a cult following and the video ends with Cyrus Sahukar, MTV’s face in India, encouraging young people to take that first step. The video was launched in New Delhi on 1 June 2009 in the presence of 50 International Climate Champions from across India & Sri Lanka.

According to the British Council India website, “The video has created a flutter and there is growing demand to screen the video on various institutional networks across India and even outside fulfilling higher level objectives of impacting young urban aspirants. Young Indians are an emerging generation who are ambitious and internationally minded with the potential to be future leaders. The MTV video aims to influence this influential group.”

The Low Carbon Futures project has also released two short, powerful, animated messages that are ‘tongue-in-cheek’- making use of everyday events with a touch of humour. “We are hoping that the messages will be seen as creative, funny and innovative to tempt the recipient to forward it to their peer group. As the virus spreads, so will the message. The British High Commission and the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) are also promoting these virals to spread the message amongst the staff members and their external audiences,” says the project website.

The first viral video animation is called Green Journey, and shows a little known benefit of car pooling. Its blurb reads, simply: Meet 3 Mr Rights on the wrong side of the road!

The second viral video animation is called Play Cupid, and gives us one more reason to plant more trees! Blurb: Lets leave the young couples in peace and solitude of nature!

Watch out for more interesting videos from British Council India’s YouTube channel.

Shooting wildlife or wild-life: Environmental film-makers’ dilemma

Speaking of wild-life to a mild audience....

Speaking of wild-life to a mild audience....Photo by Niroshan Fernando, TVEAP

The Wildscreen film festival got underway at the British Council Colombo this morning.

The keynote address was delivered by Sri Lankan minister of environment and natural resources. The British Council asked me to speak a few words at the opening as TVE Asia Pacific is a local partner for this event.

Here’s what I said, which sums up why we are in this business:

We are delighted to be partners in hosting Wildscreen film festival in Sri Lanka. We thank our friends at the British Council and Wildscreen festival for this opportunity to join hands.

May I say a brief word about ourselves. We’re Television for Education Asia Pacific — trading as TVE Asia Pacific. We’re a regionally operating media foundation anchored in Colombo and engaging developing countries of Asia. We were set up in 1996 by a group of Asian and European filmmakers and TV professionals to cover the full range of development issues using broadcast television, narrowcast video and now, the web.

We are driven by a belief that what is happening in the world’s largest and most populous region has far-reaching implications not just for our region — but also for the entire planet.

When introducing our work, I like to recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi. Once, when asked by a visiting foreign journalist for his views on wildlife in India, he said: “Sadly, wildlife is declining in our jungles, but wild – life is increasing in our cities.”

It is precisely this wild–life that interests us more. In our work we keep asking: when life itself is going wild, what hope and prospects are there for wildlife, Nature and environment?

For example, we’ve literally just finished a short film looking at environmental restoration of Afghanistan. This will be screened to the environmental minister from around the world who will gather shortly for the UN Environment Programme’s Governing Council meeting in Nairobi.

We can't just walk into a glorious sunset and forget real world challenges - Photo by Niroshan Fernando, TVEAP

We can't just walk into a glorious sunset and forget real world challenges - Photo by Niroshan Fernando, TVEAP

Capturing wild-life is now the focus and concern of wildlife and environmental film makers everywhere. There was a time, not too long ago, when films used to simply capture the beauty of Nature and the diversity or behaviour of plants and animals. Such documentation is still very necessary and useful — but it’s no longer sufficient.

In the past couple of decades, all film makers have been challenged to look at how our own ‘wild’ ways of living affects:
– each other in our own human species;
– the rest of Nature and other species; and
– also, the future of life on Earth.

We see this transformation reflected in the content of films entering Wildscreen and other film festivals. I saw early signs of this when I served as a juror at Wildscreen 2000 festival. This process has gathered momentum since.

To remain relevant and topical, films can no longer just cover ‘green’ subjects — they have to acknowledge the ‘brown’ issues as well as the harsh black-and-white, life-or-death concerns such as climate change.

At the same time, we have seen a rapid diversification of formats or genres — especially with the emergence of online and mobile platforms. These now compete with broadcast television to engage audiences. This is both good news and bad news for us engaged in film making and film outreach. Yes, we now have more ways of reaching people than ever before. But engaging audiences is harder: people have more choice — and more distractions!

Of course, we can’t just give up the good struggle and walk away into those beautiful sunsets. At TVE Asia Pacific, we believe that making good films is only half the job done. Distributing them far and wide is just as important. This is why the slogan of our own organisation is: Moving images, moving people!

In that process, film festivals such as this one play a key role. We’re very happy to add an extra day of screenings to this event. On Saturday in this auditorium, we’ll be showing a number of films on climate change and sustainable development drawn from our own catalogue of films we distribute to broadcast, civil society and educational users across Asia.

These are small efforts in a big world. I can only hope all these help us in winning history’s greatest race – which, according to H G Wells, is one between education and catastrophe!