Don’t ignore what truly matters | Director Ryan Gatt on the spark that initiated Il-Komplici

Ahead of the screening of his short film adaptation of Walid Nabhan’s short story ‘Il-Komplici’ – produced by Simshar director Rebecca Cremona – first-time director Ryan Gatt speaks to Teodor Reljic about the spark that initiated the project, and the deeply-felt message of the original work, which Gatt hopes will survive in the transition to another art form, as he prepares to show the film at this year’s edition of the National Book Festival in Valletta

Ryan Gatt on the set of Il-Komplici
Ryan Gatt on the set of Il-Komplici

What led you to choose this particular story by Walid Nabhan for your project, and why did you think it was suited for a film adaptation? 

To be totally honest, film adaptation had never crossed my mind as something I would embark on at my own accord. However, this great initiative has pushed me past the boundaries of my comfort zone and thanks to this I have discovered some magnificent Maltese literary compositions and of course their very talented writers. 

I must admit that I was never an avid reader of Maltese literature but the minute I decided to give this opportunity a try, I went on a little shopping spree and returned home with at least 10 new books. I spent a whole week reading and I really enjoyed it. By the end of that week I had a short list of favourites.  

The first question that came to mind was, “Which is the story that presents a moment that I would like to emphasize?” They were all special in their own ways but Walid’s writing just jumped off the page and after reading ‘Il-Komplici’ this one big moment that the story revolves around, lingered in my head for days. The underlying subtext was so strong that the characters instantly came to life in my head and images started to take shape. This is a feeling that is very hard to explain but that is when I knew that this was the one.  

Walid’s text is a great example of how, what is expected to be the most mundane moment, one person in need asking a friend for help, can be the most influential, painful, insightful and inspiring stretch of time. I was quite shocked by the pertinent question I was forced to ask myself repeatedly throughout; How are people affected when I ignore them? How many times do we ignore the people around us and how many times do we think about it? Life is too short but we must stop and think as our actions might lead us towards a promising future but not at the cost of other people’s lives, especially those who care about you. This is something we must never ignore.  In my opinion, a story that is suited for film adaptation should enable the filmmaker to read past the written material and gives you a good sense that it can exist independently from the novel or short story. In a good adaptation, the story might be reshaped but the essence of that literary piece lives forever.

How did it feel to win the competition that led to Il-Komplici to be selected for screening at the National Book Festival? Which elements of the film would you say made for a winning combination? 

I started my journey in film around 10 years ago and worked as a freelancer in the servicing industry ever since. I learnt heaps from assisting camera departments, producers and directors but recently the calling to direct was very strong. I’ve been thinking about getting a script off the pages for the past few years and the National Book Council gave me my first shot. So yes, I am still blown away by all this. And it was a lengthy journey that thought me a real lot. I started writing with my long time writing partner, Paul de Leonardo with whom I created and developed the characters that represent the facets of today’s society. Then I continued writing on my own while discussing the adaptation at length with Walid, until Rebecca Cremona whom I approached to produce the film, came on board with a pair of fresh eyes and together we continued re-writing and polished the final draft of the script. And this was the script that attracted such a great and talented team of creatives and technicians and together we made this dream a reality. 

Crew and cast of Il-Komplici
Crew and cast of Il-Komplici

What are some of the core themes of the story, and how do you hope they come across in your short? 

I feel that the principal theme of ‘Il-Komplici’ is society’s hold on us as individuals – how we become confined and dictated by the expectations, limitations and restraints which it imposes on us. This is particularly true in contemporary society – a world in which advertising has pumped us up with unattainable ideals, the pressure of keeping up appearances does not only happen in our physical reality but also in that of our digital proxies, and interacting with one another is becoming more and more the realm of virtual reality. Having said so, the pressure the status quo exerts on the individual’s freedom is a classical theme, and this makes ‘Il-Komplici’ a timeless morality tale.  

My aim is to make this film a journey of discovery. What I have definitely learnt from this experience so far is that our own instinct is not there to hinder but to help.

Do you think that initiatives like this are the right way forward for Maltese filmmakers to develop their skills? What would you like to see more of in this regard? 

I think such initiatives are of utmost importance as they foster many aspects of Maltese art and culture. It is also reminder that short films, apart from being a portfolio piece for the filmmakers, are an art form in and of themselves. Some of my most cherished films are shorts, and I think it’s such a shame they don’t get more exposure. The same could be said of short stories. 

This is a priceless opportunity for every upcoming filmmaker as the National Book Council together with our National Broadcaster are putting their resources and efforts behind building cultural heritage and opening up opportunities for filmmakers and

A word from the author

The Palestinian-Maltese author Walid Nabhan gives us his perspective on Gatt’s adaptation of his short story, which originally appeared in the collection ‘Lura d-dar u grajjiet ohra li ma grawx’ (2009).

Walid Nabhan
Walid Nabhan

Dramatic adaptation of a story, any story, means exactly that it will not be the same. Writers, who have agreed with conviction to turn their texts into dramatic signals and gestures, usually do not scream that their work has been distorted. Changing ‘literary descriptions’ into ‘epitomized artistic shots’ entails a completely different art and ingenuity, that’s why we have big names and less bigger ones in the field of directing. It takes a great deal of sagacity, love and professionalism to change written events into visible ones.

“Ryan is a gifted young craftsman with lots of imaginative simulations and creative solutions. I believe he is the right man for the right job. I am very happy to have worked with him irrespective of any outcome. The presence of Rebecca Cremona hugely encouraged me to trust their talent blindly, from the start to the end.”

Il-Komplici will be screened at the National Book Festival on November 12 at the Temi Zammit Hall, Malta Mediterranean Conference Centre, Valletta. Like all the previous films created under this initiative, the film has been created under the auspices of the National Book Council in collaboration with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)