Simshar: a sign of things to come?

The future of Malta’s film industry was debated in cautiously optimistic tones during a press seminar which followed a screening of Rebecca Cremona’s long-awaited feature film, Simshar

Rebecca Cremona, Engelbert Grech and Owen Bonnici
Rebecca Cremona, Engelbert Grech and Owen Bonnici

“Simshar is a film that shouldn’t have been possible to make, but we made it,” director Rebecca Cremona said on Saturday afternoon, closing off a press seminar at St James Cavalier, held after a screening of Simshar at Embassy Cinemas.
In celebratory spirits after the screening of Cremona’s feature film – inspired by the titular boating tragedy, Simshar has long been touted as Malta’s first ‘bona fide’ film – the seminar focused on what the film and its journey to the screen says about the current state of Malta’s film industry, with particular emphasis being placed on the need to foster international co-productions in an attempt to strengthen Malta’s indigenous film scene.
The panel was completed by Minister for Justice and Culture Owen Bonnici, Malta Film Commissioner Engelbert Grech, Simshar Associate producer Angelique Muller, Irish ambassador Jim Hennessey and a representative of the Irish post-production company Egg, which contributed to sound production on Simshar.
Bonnici lauded Cremona’s “determination” in getting the project off the ground, acknowledging that it was an ambitious endeavour from start to finish, given Malta’s limited financial and technical resources in the field of film.
“Creative workers like Rebecca have the ability to bridge cultural barriers,” Bonnici said, in reference to the fact that Simshar was made possible through collaboration with various countries, such as Ireland, France and Croatia.
“We know that there remain significant financial barriers for local filmmakers, and we’re striving to address them,” Bonnici added.
Having received support from the Malta Film Fund in 2011, Cremona sought further assistance from international partners. Having employed Egg for sound production, Simshar used the Croatian company Lemonade3d for visual effects, as well as employing French actors Sékouba Doucouré and Laura Kpegli in supporting roles.
“This does not mean Simshar is a co-production, technically speaking, but hopefully it’ll serve as an example of how Malta can creatively collaborate with different countries, and lead to co-productions in the future,” Cremona said.
In reply to a question by a British journalist – who asked the panel to specify which financial and infrastructural challenges are of most concern to the local film industry – Cremona said that Malta is host to an “interesting mix” of film professionals.
“There are plenty of skilled technicians who honed their craft while working on the big Hollywood productions that Malta has serviced over the years – and we made use of some of them for Simshar. But for example, when it came to hiring a focus-puller, we had to get one from France,” Cremona said, which led to a discussion of film education in Malta.
(Cremona herself studied film in the UK and US before setting out to make Simshar back in 2008).
“The lack of training is a recurring issue. It is hoped that Malta will play host to more international productions in the near future – we should be able to ride their wave so that we can learn from them, which will in turn feed into our own indigenous industry,” Engelbert Grech said, while adding that the Film Commission is currently in the process of creating courses that would bolster the professional skills of prospective local filmmakers and film technicians.
Simshar will be premiering tomorrow evening at Empire Cinemas in Bugibba, and will go on general release – at Empire and Embassy Cinemas in Valletta – as of Wednesday, April 30.
Set around the real-life ‘Simshar’ tragedy which occurred in 2008, the film – co-written by Rebecca Cremona and David Grech – takes as its starting point the accident involving the titular fishing boat, which left Simon Bugeja’s 11-year-old son Theo and father Karmenu dead at sea.
A parallel story, also in the Mediterranean, zooms in on the fate of a medic who is ordered to stay on a boat harbouring rescued African migrants, which Malta and Italy refuse access to.