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‘People Will See What We Go Through’: Maltese Fishermen Reflect On Life As Actors On Sundance Nominated Film

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Luzzu made history last night after it became the first Maltese film to premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. 

While no one was able to watch the film from home, because of a geoblock, the Maltese islands were nonetheless rooting for the film we all can’t wait to see.

The premiere was followed by an insightful Q&A with the cast of the film, Jesmark and David Sciculana, who play two real fishermen, and Michela Farrugia, an local actress.

Lovin Malta spoke to the cast of Luzzu to get a better understanding of the film, its real life message and how real fishermen ended up becoming movie stars. 

“The film reflects a lot of the problems facing Maltese fishermen,” David told Lovin Malta. “The biggest issue we face is that if you don’t have a quota to catch a certain species of fish, like tuna, the fish you net ‘by catch’ needs to be thrown away,” he continued.

Luzzu depicts the homegrown tale of the two real fishermen as they come to terms with the hardships of their industry in the modern age, turning towards an illegal black market to care for their family and livelihood.

“The film had a lot of our input but, obviously, we had to adapt to the camera and adapt to what the director wanted,” he continued.

Luzzu was directed by Alex Camilleri and is the young filmmaker’s debut feature. It was produced by Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani, Oliver Mallia and Alex Camilleri, with the support of the Malta Film Fund and the Malta Film Commission. 

Taking real fishermen and turning them into actors was no easy task and was not taken seriously at first by the cast. However, if they had the chance, they would not say no to another opportunity in front of the big screen.

At first I thought it was a joke but it soon turned into reality when Alex showed an interest in what I do,” Jesmark said. “I would definitely do it again.”

“The hardest part for me was that everything was new since I had never been on a film set before, let alone played the main role,” he continued.

When it came to being on the water, the fishermen felt right at home, providing a genuinely authentic performance. 

In the grand scheme of things, Malta’s fishing industry has been hard hit by recent events, most notably the coronavirus pandemic, but opportunities such as Luzzu serve to shed light on the struggles fishermen face.

“Many restaurants and hotels need to maintain mitigation measures so the amount of business they have is less, which has pushed prices down. This affects fishermen immensely since we earn a living through this,” David said.

For the fishermen, Luzzu is more than just a movie, it’s an appreciation for a traditional industry that has long formed part of the foundation of Maltese culture and society. 

“I’m very happy since our work is not appreciated enough and our work depends on the sea’s generosity, and the seasons, due to the weather. Fishing, as a profession, has many challenges. With this film, people will be able to see what fishermen go through,” David continued. 

For Michela, who plays a fisherman’s wife, the experience pushed her out of her comfort zone as an actor.

“I had to strip away everything that I learned, and I just act,” she said. “Acting out a scene with Jesmark and David was the most natural performance I have ever given. I have learned a lot from them.” 

Luzzu has already received rave reviews and has been dubbed as one of the forerunners for Best International Feature at Sundance – a testimony to the great work behind the feature. 

“I fear that people who depend on this industry will and are struggling with overfishing and plastic polluting our oceans. We are slowly losing a whole culture and I think Luzzu speaks to this reality,” Michela ended.

Luzzu stands a unique film in local cinema and has set the bar for future productions with its premiere at Sundance. While attendees got to witness the film in full last night, local cinema-goers might have to wait a while until they can fully experience the tale of the two Maltese fishermen.

Nonetheless, Luzzu will one day come home and feature on our big screens for everyone to enjoy.

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When JP's not too busy working on polyrhythmic beats, you'll probably find him out and about walking his dog.

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