Luzzu Director On Telling A Rare Local Tale In Malta & Casting Non-Professional Actors Contenders International

After Luzzu made history by becoming the first Maltese feature to compete in a major international festival, the pic now sails its way to the Oscar race as the nation’s International Feature submission.

Helmed by debutant director Alex Camilleri (also the editor and writer), the film revolves around Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna, who picked up Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award), a struggling fisherman on the island of Malta who is forced to risk everything by entering the world of illegal fishing in order to provide for his wife and newborn baby.

Camilleri’s identity of growing up in America but being of Maltese decent left him always wanting to explore his home country through film, he said during the film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International awards-season event.

“I was so interested in the world of fishermen; it’s seeped in beauty and tradition but very little is known about it,” he said. “There was a sentimental or romantic notion about fishermen and I wanted to break that down and take a look at what it is to uphold this tradition in a modern context.”

Development of the project lasted close to four years, two of which were dedicated to him working with his primarily non-professional cast. The filmmaker used real fisherman to play the key roles, and Camilleri recalls that they were initially hesitant because they did not expect an outsider to hear their voices, but that he convinced them over time.

“I didn’t give them a script — we improvised the dialogue together and recorded it on a camera. We then used our discoveries and wrote them back into the script, so Jesmark and David [Scicluna, the other lead actor] have their DNAs really woven into the fabric of the film,” he added.

Luzzu, which counts writer-director Ramin Bahrani (White Tiger) as a producer, was acquired in a U.S. deal by Kino Lorber, which released the pic in October.

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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