Review: Silenced Voices


“Sri Lanka seems to be cursed. For 30 years it has endured a brutal and seemingly endless ethnic civil war.” These are the words of a beautiful Norwegian journalist, Beate Arnestad, as she rides undercover through checkpoints skirting a fenced-in area of Tamils – exiles in their own country.

The 2012 Human Rights Watch has chosen this film to help illuminate the bravery and moral perseverance of the journalists who report the important stories – the injustices occurring throughout the world. This particular doc tells the story of human rights abuses under the current Sri Lankan government.

The first step before change is education. In the case of Arnestad’s documentary, she is reporting on the plight of Tamil civilians who have been interned since the end of the 2009 civil war. She is not allowed to enter or visit the camp. However, sources have reported to her that women are being abused, there is rampant diarrhea and conditions are inhumane.

Though the ruling Sinalese crushed the Tamils, Arnestad reports that 400,000 civilians were trapped between the fighting parties. One journalist, Lasantha Wickramathunge, who chose to investigate, ended up exposing acts of genocide along with torture, rape, and the discretion of civilian bodies. Footage of dead women and children taken by soldiers with their cell phones proves these violations.

However, government policy and troops continued the persecution.

Wickramathunge, though a respected Sinalese, was repeatedly warned to stop his revelations and criticisms of the government. Courageously he continued. Soon after his wedding, in cruel retribution, his vehicle was surrounded by motorcycles and he was shot dead.

In times of civil unrest a ranking government official justified ongoing military crackdowns to Arnestad, saying simply, “Dissention is treason.”

Wickramathunge’s wife, Sonali Samarsinghe, whose life was also threatened, has moved to NYC. She is now editor-in-chief of the Lanka Standard which is dedicated to placing “the principles of journalism above politics.” Whatever is happening, the truth must be reported.

“I believe journalists can change the world,” she says to Arnestad. “If not, why are we there?”

Other journalists, now underground, are interviewed and one who agrees to meet with Arnestad is put in jeopardy. As it turns out, Arnestad has been tailed since her arrival in Sri Lanka and her sources may all be compromised. See the film to see how Norwegians handle the role of news sources and issues of immigration sanctuary.

But most importantly, see one the most important films made at the 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

The 2012 Human Rights Watch Film Festival
“Silenced Voices”: June 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Center Walter Reade Theater
Screening followed by discussion with filmmaker Beate Arnestad
and film subject Sonali Samarasinghe
Presented with: Asian CineVision, Committee to Protect Journalists,
and Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma

Director: Beate Arnestad
Producers; Gudny Hummelvoll and Frederick Howard
Cast: Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, Bashana Abeywardane, Sharmila Logeswaram and A. Lokeesan.
Released: 2012
Running Time: 60 minutes

. . .

Follow Bev Questad on Twitter at

And don’t forget to “Like” It’s Just Movies on Facebook at

Comments are closed.