Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi, a film directed and produced by Martin Bonnici, is about to hit Eden Cinemas this Friday! The local production is based on its namesake and award-winning novel by Alex Vella Gera. It follows Malta amid a political crisis after years of corruption and a lengthy fight between the socialist government and the catholic church – a quintessential thriller yet steeped in Maltese culture and setting.
We had the opportunity to sit down with the people that made this production reality and delve deeper into all the work that went into what we’ll be seeing on the silver screen tomorrow.
When the director, Martin Bonnici, approached you to take part in this project, what was your first reaction and what made you want to be part of it?
Screenwriter, Teodor Reljic, was onboard from the getgo. “The idea of tackling such an ambitious story as one of my first feature-length screenplays was both intimidating and exciting”, he admitted.
“I knew that, no matter what happened, we would be handling one of the most interesting and hotly debated contemporary Maltese novels… so that no matter how things went, it would make for an interesting experience regardless.”
Erica Muscat, who portrayed Frances Tabone, also realised the film’s potential to ignite a discussion and was eager to take part in this process. “It’s opening a can of worms into a history so few of us really know anything about,” she said, “I want to see the movie open a dialogue into the trauma of the last century and discuss how future generations might learn from the mistakes of the past.”
Gianni Selvaggi, portraying Richard Sammut Petri, told us that he had been part of the short film rendition of the film back in 2019. So it was a no-brainer for him to reprise his role and flesh out the narrative of ‘Sriep’ further.
Did you read the novel or interact with Alex Vella Gera whilst researching your work or role?
Joseph Zammit, who portrayed Roger Tabone Sr, avoided reading the novel until after they were finished filming so as to rely solely on Bonnici’s vision. On the other hand, Selvaggi made it a point to read the novel to read into all the nuances of his character and beef up the role as much as possible.
Muscat and Reljic were already fans of the novel even before they knew about the film adaptation. Muscat vividly remembers her first reaction,“Is-Sriep had me intrigued and disturbed in equal measure because it left me feeling so uncertain of the ground I stood on with regards my own Identity.”
Reljic admitted he was an early fan, “It’s highly likely that I was among the first batch of people to read the novel before it came out in 2012.” He even kept in close contact with Vella Gera himself during the scriptwriting process.
“Alex was also gracious enough to answer some research-based questions for me, which helped flesh out the world of our characters, particularly in the 1984 segment of the film.”
What challenges did you face whilst making this film?
“The biggest ‘challenge’, so to speak, was the waiting process,” Reljic said, “I had to learn to be patient and accept that the project would either be in the backburner for a very long time or not happen at all.”
Chris Galea, portraying Noel Sammut Petri, reminded us of the very blatant challenge of having to film during COVID. While Muscat praised Bonnici for coordinating the difficult pandemic-induced situation amazingly, “He created a safe place to explore… We played, we failed, we played some more and then we created something together that, even before seeing the final cut, I am convinced that I will be proud of.”
On the other hand, Selvaggi recounted some particularly challenging scenes.
“I particularly remember the Nine consecutive night shoots at the very start of production – varying from intimately quiet scenes to demanding physical sequences in some unconventional shooting locations – It was tough, but deep down I loved every second of it.”
What are some of your best memories from this project?
Selvaggi echoed a general sentiment expressed by everyone: “The best part out of the whole experience was the people involved in the project; everyone’s dedication and commitment.”
Reljic gave his unique perspective as a scriptwriter, thinking back mainly to winning the National Book Council fund, and the thrilling process of adapting the novel and moulding the characters fates.
“Changing some key elements of the novel to better suit the film adaptation was always a bit of a scary proposition, that fear came laced with a thrill, and a sense that we were really beginning to make the story our own.”
On a lighter note, Muscat had this anecdote to share: “I’m pretty sure that the cast and crew will assume that my fondest memory was of me gorging on plates of profiteroles- for a day… I can assure our audiences that not a profiterole was wasted in the shooting of the scene.”
What do you think Malta needs more of when it comes to filmmaking and production?
To close off our conversation, they reflected on the local film community in general. “We need more local productions, period,” Reljic put it simply, speaking for everyone. Zammit chimed in that the talent is there but local productions are lacking resources and support. Similarly, Galea said that the Film Commission should shift gears to supporting more Maltese films instead of solely focusing on importing large productions.
Muscat specified further the need for more female-driven productions. “I genuinely believe that, given a good script, audiences are keen to see female-driven plots because, well, we kind of make up half the population…our stories need to be told,” she said.
The Eden Cinemas also got to sit down with director and producer, Martin Bonnici for an even more in-depth look behind the scenes of Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi – watch part 1 of the video interviews here!
If this has got you intrigued, there’s much more to take in from the actual film… Head over to the Eden Cinemas website to book your tickets so you don’t miss out!