Clip from Luzzu - courtesy of Luzzu Ltd on YouTube
The story about the Maltese fisherman turned actor who clinched an award at Sundance Film Festival made headlines in the past week, but did you know that a member of the UM community was also on the team that brought Maltese film Luzzu to life?
Ms Rebecca Anastasi, who is a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, was the lead producer on this internationally-acclaimed movie.
Newspoint had a brief chat with her, virtually of course, about how she went from being a B.Communications (Hons) student to having such an important role in a locally-produced movie that has reached the attention of many beyond our shores.
How long have you been a visiting lecturer at MaKs for?
I’ve been part of the Department of Media & Communications in the Faculty since 2013. I am also currently reading for my doctorate, researching the work of postcolonial female filmmakers from the Middle East. I teach a first-year compulsory study-unit, Introduction to Film Studies, and a third/fourth year unit, Film Appreciation. I also give some guest lectures within the Masters of Film Studies programme. Before all that, I was a B.Communications (Hons) student, with English as my secondary area.
How did you land the role of a lead producer on this movie in particular?
I have 15 years' experience in the film servicing industry and was one of the programmers for the Valletta Film Festival when Alex Camilleri, the director, approached me to help out on his project.
It was very early days and he had just applied for development money through the grant schemes of the Malta Film Fund. He explained his idea of using non-actors in the fishing community and I was immediately intrigued - I thought this could actually work for Malta!
Even though we have a strong film servicing industry, our local sector is still struggling to get on its feet although there are many good people striving hard to readdress this imbalance.
We worked together for 3.5 years, together with our fellow producers Ramin Bahrani (Iranian-American director of The White Tiger) and Oliver Mallia (local producer, company: Pellikola) and we shot in the autumn of 2019. We were extremely fortunate to have the BEST cast and crew - who were so loyal that even when Terence Malick came to town, they stuck with us.
How much of the movie is fiction and how much of it is real?
The story is fictitious, and it can be classified as a neorealist drama. However, Alex did research the difficulties fishermen in Malta face on a daily basis and our fisherman-actors gave us a lot of 'fishing-world' context so the film is rooted in authenticity.
How has the movie developed beyond its initial script – and how did you bring the story to life?
The story developed over three and a half years and the intial idea was very different, leaning more towards genre-elements than art house. One thing remained constant though: the need to use real fishermen. And, when we met Jesmark and David Scicluna, everything clicked into place and, through their conversations and rehearsals with Alex, the story evolved and solidified. The last piece in the puzzle was the character of Denise, which Michela made her own. We're incredibly proud of all our cast.
There was also one key element to all this: since we wanted to use Maltese - and one which was authentic to the world of the story - the dialogue in the script was written in English for our cast to translate themselves.
Alex would ask them: how would you say this in your own words? The end result was a rich representation of the language on screen. And I'm especially proud of that.
My role - together with the other producers - was to make sure Alex had what he needed to make the film, whether this was helping to develop the project, coordinating casting, or crew recruitment, raising the financing and, finally, ensuring the film gets to market.
As a producer, you're the first one on the project and the last one out - you need to 'carry' the film to fruition. Not only ensure its development and production, but also make sure it gets to audiences.
Would you say that your experience as a UM student contributed to the success of your profession, as a producer?
It has been invaluable. When I entered the University's B.Communications programme, I felt I had found a home within that department (at the time it was a centre known as CCT). I loved my classes and my lecturers were so encouraging. I learnt about films I had never heard of, and I was provoked to thinking about film in new ways, and that definitely put me on track. I followed my undergraduate with a Masters in Media and Communications (by research) focusing on postcolonial film. Prof. Saviour Catania has, for years, been a mentor and, today, I'm very proud to say he's my PhD supervisor, together with Dr Norbert Bugeja, who is of such invaluable support. I'm very lucky.
The encouragement and mentorship I have received at the university and, particularly, within the department of media and communications - up until today - has been instrumental on a personal and professional level.