Kannan Arunasalam

Kannan is a British–Sri Lankan documentary filmmaker.

Kannan’s work has appeared in The Guardian, The New Yorker, AOL Originals, in addition to broadcasts on BBC and Al Jazeera English. In 2013, he was awarded best documentary short for Kerosene (16 mins) at the Seattle South Asian International Documentary Festival and in 2014, given the Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation’s best documentary short prize for The Story of One (19 mins). His films have screened at international film festivals and art museums, including Neuberger Museum of Art, N.Y. (2014); Rubin Museum of Art, N.Y.C. (2015); Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2016); Dhaka Art Summit (2018); and selected for Film South Asia’s Travelling Film Festivals (2011, 2013, 2015). Kannan is a director at the Los Angeles based production company, Stateless Media that produces its signature shortreals for online platforms.

Kannan has over 7 years of experience in media production working for a variety of clients and under different grants, including the Ford Foundation (2009), the US State Department (2010-2013) and the Mellon Foundation (2016). In addition, he has 12 years of experience of working in media restrictive, conflict and post-conflict environments, during which he conceptualised and developed award-winning new media narrative projects. He studied Psychology at the University of Cambridge (1992-95) and International Human Rights at the University of Oxford (2007-08), focusing on media and conflict. Kannan is also a qualified media and human rights lawyer. In 2015, he was a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, N.Y., teaching a course on media representations of the Sri Lankan conflict.

Kannan is based in Colombo and London and is available to work internationally.


Paper broadcast on Aljazeera English, March 2012


Paper broadcast on Aljazeera English, March 2012

Review of ‘Kerosene’, Time Out Mumbai, 2012

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Time Out previews a festival of documentaries from South Asia, Nandini Ramnath, February 17, 2012: “The new batch has two standout films. The first, Kerosene, is a curio about the Sri Lankan civil war, which ended in March 2009 … The crisp images, precisely composed shots and desaturated colour palette conjure up a city caught [...]



In the 1990s, the Sri Lankan government’s embargoes on fuel, medicines and food items in the north and east of Sri Lanka in an effort to frustrate the operations of the Tamil Tigers reached their peak. In the face of dearth and hardship, the locals resorted to increasingly inventive ways of making do. ‘Kerosene’ is a short video portrait of resilience, expression and survival, capturing the stories of Jaffna’s taxi drivers and mechanics. ‘Kerosene’ was commissioned by http://groundviews.org. The film has been screened at international film festivals and is part of the selection for Travelling Film South Asia 2012, travelling all over South Asia and the world during 2012.

Kerosene selected for Travelling Film South Asia 2012


Film Southasia has selected 12 exceptional nonfiction productions of the last two years to create the Travelling Film Southasia 2012 (TFSA ’12) package. The films have been selected from the 36 documentaries screened in the competitive section of Film Southasia 2011, held in Kathmandu. This mobile campaign to promote and popularise Southasian documentaries stops at [...]

Returning lives, rebuilding limbs


A Sinhalese doctor from Birmingham returns to Sri Lanka to help amputees at the Mannar hospital. Part of the Longing and Belonging series looking at the diaspora returning to Sri Lanka. This video was commissioned by International Alert as part of their work on engaging returning diaspora.



The embargoes on fuel and food also restricted newsprint reaching the north and east of Sri Lanka. ‘Paper’ is a video portrait of resilience and freedom of expression, and how one newspaper found creative ways to get the news to the locals. The film was commissioned by http://groundviews.org. The film has been screened at international film festivals and is part of the selection for Travelling Film South Asia 2012, travelling all over South Asia and the world during 2012.

The I Am project


‘I am’ is a multimedia project exploring identity through the lives of Sri Lankn elders. The project is now into its second series, and is collection of portraits in photography and sound of the experience and insights of wise men and women from Sri Lanka. The portraits include the 105-year old tobacco farmer who talks about his simple way of life in a village in Jaffna; the union leader who cannot see himself as a Tamil, but only as a “workers’ leader”; the activist who was born into the barber caste, but who struggled with discrimination and became a poet; the writer who speaks of discovering the Other within the caste system of Jaffna and then becoming one in the south; and the businessman who, like tens of thousands of other Muslims, was expelled from his hometown of Jaffna by the Tamil Tigers, and who returned to restart a new life there. The project was made possible through a grant by the US Embassy in Colombo.

The warrior queen, I Am project


Helga de Silva talks about growing up in the family home that would eventually become the sumptuous “Helga’s Folly”. She reflects on why people are drawn to her ‘anti-hotel’, a canvas for hers and her guests’ creativity.

The chief monk, I Am project


Venerable Walatara Sobhita Nayaka Thero remembers when Buddhist songs were sung by Muslim singers, and explains why appreciating music and being a monk are not mutually exclusive.

The Independent, I Am project

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Mrs Subramanium is the personal assistant to the head of one of Jaffna’s most popular newspaper. She reflects on her approach to life and death and why, despite the constant badgering from her diasporan family, she refuses to leave Jaffna.


A selection of photographs from my portfolio from Sri Lanka and Burma 2010-2014. Please get in touch if you’d like to purchase any of these images.

Copyright © 2009-14 Kannan Arunasalam