[WATCH] Luzzu director: 'You don't need a Hollywood budget to make a good film, just a story to tell'

Luzzu director Alex Camilleri says industry must shed the idea that a big budget is needed to make a good film 

A scene from the film Luzzu
A scene from the film Luzzu

The Maltese film industry must free itself from believing that it must have a Hollywood budget to make a good film, Luzzu director Alex Camilleri said.

Speaking during a Q&A after a press screening of Luzzu ahead of its Maltese debut, Camilleri said it was time the Maltese film industry realised money doesn't make films; people do. 

Luzzu is centred around a struggling fisherman Jesmark who is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of black market fishing to provide for his wife and newborn baby.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in February, where fisherman turned actor Jesmark Scicluna, won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award in acting.

"Liberate yourself from all the elements Hollywood blockbusters have forced onto us. Get rid of the dolly, crane and drone, and put the camera on your shoulder, find an interesting character and follow them around," Camilleri said. 

 Luzzu director Alex Camilleri answered questions after a press screening of the movie
Luzzu director Alex Camilleri answered questions after a press screening of the movie

"Jesmark has been there; he was waiting," Camilleri said, adding that Jesmark and the Maltese sun were the two most significant assets to the film. 

"We hardly had any lights on this film. It is some of the best light you can find anywhere in the world, and if you point the camera in the right direction and you have a story to tell, the film will follow," he said. 

When it comes to what is needed to really see a bloom within the Maltese film industry, Camilleri said it came down to the individual, the story they wanted to tell, and how they tell it. 

"When you're a filmmaker, all you think about is what story inspires you. Do I want to do it enough, do I want I believe in it enough. When you're making personal cinema like this, an independent vision, it can't really be churned out; there is no formula," Camilleri said. 

Camilleri said when it comes to Luzzu, the film's success comes down to the chemistry between the talent off and on screen. 

"It's all about locking arms and jumping off a cliff weathering a million storms between the first glimmer of the idea to this moment right now when you get to show it to the world." 

Camilleri also spoke on his decision to have the film be predominantly in Maltese. His parents immigrated to America in the 1980s. "I don't speak Maltese, my parents did, but they decided not to teach their children their language because they thought it might hinder our simulation in America, and I don't begrudge them for it, but it still strikes a sadness in me."

Fisherman turned actor Jesmark Scicluna
Fisherman turned actor Jesmark Scicluna

Camilleri said that for immigrant families, there is this idea that one must choose between their own culture and assimilating into another. 

"I don't think in the late 80s and 90s when we grew up they had any notion in their heads that one of their kids would be desperate to get back to Malta," Camilleri said. 

Camilleri said that he wasn't dissuaded by the fact that he wasn't a native speaker. "It's a straightforward choice; in what language would Jesmark and David normally speak to each other in? They would speak to each other in Maltese. So that's what they'll speak. Why make them speak English? Because it would be more commercial? Perhaps, but it wouldn't be true."

Camilleri also revealed he has a second film in the works. "There is a little bit of a shared philosophy with Luzzu, a small film set in a very particular part of Malta but also couldn't be more different to Luzzu it's showing a completely different side of the island."

He said that he would be using a mix of non-actors and actors again, but the tone would be different from Luzzu, happier. 

"If Luzzu is Rossellini, the next one is going to be more Fellini," Camilleri said. 

Luzzu will be showing at Eden Cenitry Cinema in September. The film is prominently in Maltese. However, there are English subtitles.