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‘Luzzu’ Behind The Scenes: A Story of Maltese Authenticity


Luzzu has been making waves


Ever since Luzzu’s history-making debut (and win!) at the Sundance Film Festival, it has been making waves in the film community both locally and abroad. The film received high praise for its authenticity in showing Malta as Malta, not as a set for a blockbuster. Even more importantly, Luzzu captured Malta at its core – away from the tourist hotspot we’ve become too connoted with.  


Director, Alex Camilleri and main actors, Jesmark Scicluna and Michela Farrugia, graciously let us step behind the scenes to understand how the award-winning filming came to be. 



From the outset, Alex admitted that the premise of the film was a challenge in and of itself since nothing like it has been done for. But this uniqueness also empowered him to push through in the hopes of creating something completely new. 


As long as I wanted to make films I wanted to make them in Malta,” Alex told us. He aspired to be a filmmaker from a young age. Film gave him the opportunity to make the different parts of his life add up. That is, his Maltese heritage and his life in the US, having been born to immigrant Maltese parents. 



Alex had never gone fishing in his life, nor did he know anything about it.


However, what technical knowledge he didn’t have he made up for emotionally. He felt he understood fishermen because of their shared struggles. 


“I understood the emotional lives of the characters, and the dilemma of ‘How do we relate to the past?’”


His parents wanted to create a better life for him by emigrating, although it meant leaving part of their heritage behind. Similarly, Jesmark, who plays Jesmark in the film as well, is faced with the balancing act of keeping to tradition or looking forward to new means to better provide for his newborn. 




At its heart, Luzzu is a simple story about a fisherman, his family and his boat. 


The Luzzu team worked with as little resources as you could have – natural light, non-actors, authentic locations. Alex joked that he would’ve started filming with an iPhone if need be and it wouldn’t have made a difference. 


“I don’t think there’s any sum of money that would make Luzzu a much better film than it already is”


Raw emotion and authenticity were the driving forces for many of the filmic decisions taken. From working with non-actors to directing a film in a language he doesn’t know, to his flexible way of filming.  



I didn’t want someone performing, I wanted someone being,” Alex said, admitting he had always intended to work with non-actors. “It would take years of training for an actor to practically become a fisherman, you can’t fake that authenticity,” he continued. 


Alex admitted that finding Jesmark and David was a challenge, but it opened up the film in a whole new way. In fact, the first time they met Jesmark he was with his daughter and this inspired one of the film’s major plot points. 


We asked Jesmark how he ended up in his role. “I was in the perfect place, at the perfect time, with the perfect person to get chosen for the part,” he said. It was a mix of a lot of hard work but also a lot of luck. 



Choosing non-actors did not come without its challenges. 


Alex started rehearsing with Jesmark and David 2 years before any shots from the film were shot. He would give them prompts and objectives, they would improv and then Alex would adjust the script accordingly. 


Even Jesmark admitted that there were the usual challenges of filming, but the team was there for each other. “We were like a family, we really cared for each other and helped each other throughout the process,” he continued.



In a way, Jesmark and David were almost like co-writers as well,” Alex said. They were performing scenes they had actually lived through, so they brought a realism to the scenes that couldn’t be studied or rehearsed. 


With Michela, who plays Denise, Jesmark’s wife, it was a matter of stripping back what she knew. She came from a theatre background, so she had to relearn how to ‘act naturally’. “I got to learn so much from them and it was great,” she said. 


In reality, the direction of the film never stopped evolving.


The trick was to adapt to the world around you and keep the film alive. A big part of the film was letting go and looking forward.


“There wasn’t one single day on the set of Luzzu were everything went as planned, and I’m really happy for that” 



For Alex, keeping the film alive and the emotion vivid was the main priority. He couldn’t understand the Maltese dialogue, so he wasn’t imposing his vision on that front. Instead, he paid attention to the most minute details. 


These details – the flicker in the eye, the physicality – are what pushed the film to international acclaim, because so many people could resonate with the film regardless of dialogue. 


“The enthusiastic response we had after our sundance premiere went beyond what anyone was expecting”


Alex, Jesmark and Michela, and undoubtedly the rest of the Luzzu team, shared the same excitement about premiering at Sundance.


Sundance go through over 3000 films being seen in a year. So, it was an honour to be chosen and awarded by people who didn’t know anything about Malta, Alex said. 



Jesmark won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award in Acting at The 2021 Sundance Film Festival. He admitted that he never expected to win, having never acted prior.


Luzzu’s success has been proof that we don’t need blockbusters to get us praise in the film industry. We are certain that this is only the beginning for Maltese filmmakers.


We made sure not to give away too much in this article, so you’ve still got every reason to go catch Luzzu at the Eden Cinemas! Tonight’s premiere is fully booked but it will start showing daily from 8th September onwards.



Click here to book your tickets!


The Eden Cinemas is currently operated at a limited capacity with all COVID-19 health and safety regulations in place!