Tears’ Cries Out

There is a sense of poetic injustice to POV's "No More Tears Sister"; it is as if Wordsworth had written "Have I not reason to lament/ what man has made of man" while witnessing the human-made atrocities committed in Sri Lanka against its self-sacrificing humanitarian workers sacrificed at the altar of ignorance in an aura of fear.

The episode, focusing on the martyred life of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, a "mother, anatomy professor, author and symbol of hope" in the seemingly hopeless arena of ethnic cleansing, airs Tuesday, June 27, at 10 p.m. on WHYY-TV12, kicking off the PBS series' 19th season.

It's open season on moral mayhem as Thiranagama, slain at 35 17 years ago and depicted on screen in re-enactments featuring her daughter Sharika, is a worthy warrior still, in death doing damage to the demimonde inhabited by those perpetuating ethnic purification.

Director Helene Klodawsky clearly connects in a personal way to the concept of killing field as genocidal geography; the storyteller has her own story to tell.

"As a child of Holocaust survivors, I have always been drawn to making films on social themes," says Klodawsky, who admits to "such a profound understanding" of what Thiranagama and her family endured as members of the minority Tamil sect in a social tier topped by the majority Sinhalese.

Klodawsky's parents were at once "so loving and traumatized by war," allowing the director a direct connection – "a common language" – to survivors of the genocidal madness depicted in "No More Tears Sister."

The film tears at the soul while searing the senses. But it is a far cry from the first time Klodawsky's work has had such visceral impact.

To gain the Thiranagamas' trust, "I sent my calling card," says Klodawsky, a calling card that phoned home, loaded with meaningful minutes and moments: "Undying Love," filled "with love stories, Holocaust stories, of people who met in camps, about their incredible will to survive; my own parents' love story is illustrated in the film."

Sitting in the dark, watching the film shed light on Klodawsky's own history, the Thiranagamas knew the director's interest was as real as the reels that played out in front of them; ethnic conflicts careen corners and spread their gore globally, and killing fields can reap harvests of hate anywhere. "I always had a sense that they knew I understood," says the director.

A shared history of hate is not the only past that plagued both Tamils and Jews; there were shards of shared hope, too. "Both are minorities who are very well-educated and have an esteem for education."

There was much to munch on, too, on their alimentary alliance: "In both cases, food and family are very important."

Integral to understanding the story, however, is that "as survivors, our people were unarmed and so vulnerable," but the battle between the Tamils and Sinhalese had sinners on both sides, "with blood on their hands."

The stains are apparent in the crimson-soaked saga that led to Thiranagama's assassination – believed to be by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant group of her own sect.

If a film can go gunning for understanding, it is this one.

"Tears," says its director, hears "the cry out there; young and old asking what can we learn, how can we understand" the progress of pain in Sri Lanka and how can it be put to an end. Yet, it's new beginnings that the Thiranagamas strive for.

"There is danger for them still, but they are courageous," says Klodawsky. "They believe it is worth waiting for the day when Raj's words will be felt."

And those words matter for survival. "They are the words," says the director, "that every life matters."



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