Sri Lanka: Personal Notes

By Paul Mitchnick:

Priests Under Repair: In the country, there are many Buddhist temples, and all are different. This one had priest statues guarding the temple. They were wrapped and not visible from the road. They were waiting to be refreshed.

In the late fall of 2017, my wife, Michaelin, and I traveled to Sri Lanka for six weeks. There was a commercial for me to shoot for a local production company and hopefully a much-needed holiday afterward.


Excitement accompanies me on such assignments. What am I going to see; whom am I going to meet? It’s also very special encountering something that I might have seen as a kid in National Geographic or a movie. Perhaps it is the somewhat romanticized two-dimensional image coming to life that creates excitement. Of course, it is never that postcard image in real life; it is more visceral and way better.


Gangaramaya Candles: Lighting prayer candles at the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, the oldest in Colombo dating back to the mid 1800s.

Travel and adventure have always been part of the work of a cinematographer that appeals to me. Most of the time, I experience places on my own, and I usually carry a still camera. I believe you see the world a little differently when you have a camera in your hand (whether you take a photo or not).


On my time off, I just pick a destination—for one reason or another—and take photos. For years I tried keeping a journal and always stopped. But I never stopped taking pictures; and finally, I realized my photos were my journal.


Christmas Presents: Despite Christians being only 7% of the population, Christmas is really huge, and this was a roadside vendor selling dolls for Christmas. There was something about them being wrapped in plastic and bound that just seemed so very wrong.

The world has been going to the island of Sri Lanka, once called Ceylon, forever in search of its riches. Merchants settled in this important stop along a trade route. History is everywhere. Sinhalese concentrated in the west but scattered through out the island. Muslims in the south and Tamils in the north offer an incredibly diverse culture. Add a veneer of British, Dutch, and Portuguese and you start to get the taste.


It’s a country of sensory adventure and eye candy: tea, spices, fragrances, silk scarves, temples; near India, but not Indian. A place of elephants, leopards, rice fields, exotic fruits, striking colors, and really big rain.

A place of adventure and maybe danger.

My work in Sri Lanka was located in Colombo, a city of 2 million and the capital on the west coast. Tangelle in the south was our beach-holiday destination, and Kandy was an impromptu trip on a narrow gauge rail train to the heart of the interior tea country.

Train to Kandy: In the middle of our stay in Colombo, we found ourselves with an unexpected five days off. Hmmmm. What about a train trip to Kandy? The center of tea, the home of Sri Lanka’s most religious Buddhist temple, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. So we booked the observation car for the scenic view. Imagine our surprise when the observation window was at the back of the train, so you saw where you had been; no