Funny Boy, Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation of Shyam Selvadurai’s coming-of-age novel, will represent Canada in the race for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Academy Awards in April.
In a Q&A Thursday via Zoom with select production staff and actors ahead of the announcement, Mehta said while the book was written 24 years ago, Selvadurai’s story about growing up gay in 1970s and ’80s Sri Lanka during the deadly Tamil-Sinhalese conflict and his eventual immigration to Canada, is as relevant today.
“We live in a world with borders, with divisions and differences,” summarized Mehta in the Telefilm announcement. “But now more than ever, we need each other, we need love and compassion and togetherness. Funny Boy to me is about humanity and hope. It’s about holding up a flag of inclusion, in a world tethering towards an abyss of the great divide.”
Shot on location in Sri Lanka, among the film’s cast are Vancouver actor Agam Darshi and Toronto’s Ali Kazmi. The film also features Brandon Ingram in his feature film debut, Nimmi Harasgama, and Arush Nand as “young Arjie.” At least 50% of the film is in languages other than English, namely Tamil.
Ava Duvernay’s independent distribution company ARRAY is releasing the film, which will premiere on CBC-TV Dec. 4 and be released outside of Canada on Netflix, Dec. 10. Mehta said ARRAY is behind the film and has an Oscars campaign ready.
“I think today’s announcement is huge for us,” said Mehta. “I remember Ava saying this is what she really would have liked. She said ‘If by any chance you get the nomination from Canada, we’ll roll up our sleeves and we’ll be right behind it.’ So I feel we’re in really good hands. She thinks the way we think, she realizes how important voices that have never been heard get heard and she is a force to reckon with…she’s respected and what Array does is not for profit, so any money they make they actually put toward women and coloured filmmakers to make sure from the ground up that we get a chance…I respect her enormously.”
Mehta, who both co-wrote the screenplay with Selvadaurai and directed, acknowledged that the pandemic brought about some production challenges.
“Because it’s not a normal year we’ve had to really think on our feet, we’ve had to be more inventive, we’ve had to cut corners, we’ve had to find corners,” said Mehta. “It’s been a big test of our ability to survive. So, in fact I welcome it. It sounds strange, but it’s true…I feel challenge, we need…not just us, human beings. It’s the indomitable spirit of what makes us live, I think.”
Mehta previously represented Canada at the Oscars with her film Water in 2007.
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