Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
Production is kicking into serious gear for the Shadeena Entertainment adaptation of Alex Vella Gera’s landmark 2012 novel Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi (Merlin), despite COVID-19 restrictions posing fresh challenges on film production worldwide.
A ‘sins of the father’ dramatic thriller set in both 1984 and 2012, ‘Is-Sriep…’ explores the socio-political fallout of the tumultuous 1980s in Malta and its repercussions across the subsequent decades, with a fictionalised plot to assassinate former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff at the heart of the story.
Produced by Shadeena Entertainment with founder Martin Bonnici taking on both directing and producing duties off a script by Teodor Reljic, the film is slated to commence production in August 2020, covid-restrictions permitting. Funding for the film was provided by the National Book Council, which awarded Bonnici and Reljic’s application with its inaugural Feature Film Fund in November 2019.
“This is the first fully-funded feature film by the National Book Council as part of its long-term campaign to bring literature and books into film while simultaneously increasing the value of local cinema,” Executive Chairman of the National Book Council (Malta) Mark Camilleri said, “Our ultimate aim is to create films which draw audiences towards books, and reading in general.”
“Very often when we talk about Maltese history we focus on the colonisers who took over Malta throughout the millennia and barely touch upon our recent history and the challenges that Malta went through post-independence. Alex Vella Gera’s novel is one of only a handful of artistic works out there that dare to ask questions about the lingering impact of the 80s. Although the story is a fictional one, I felt it closely resembles the impact that our society’s unexamined history has on our present,” Bonnici said.
A long-gestating project for both Bonnici and Reljic, ‘Is-Sriep…’ has just cast its lead roles, assembling a veritable who’s who of local stage and screen talents. Chris Galea will take on the leading role of Noel Sammut Petri, who in 2012 returns to Malta from Brussels to attend his mother’s funeral only to gradually begin uncovering some disturbing family secrets. The role of his father Richard Sammut Petri will be played by Gianni Selvaggi, while Roger Tabone – a family friend and pivotal player in the assassination attempt – will be played by the prolific and versatile Joseph Zammit. Erica Muscat rounds off the main cast as Frances Tabone, while Tina Rizzo takes on the key supporting role of Maureen Sammut Petri. The production will be finalising casting for all roles in the coming days.
While ambitious in scope, Bonnici will be approaching this feature length adaptation of ‘Is-Sriep…’ with some precedent on his side, and not just because he has directed and produced a number of short films which have been screened internationally. Working under the auspices of Sajjetta Productions last year, Bonnici has already directed a short film version of an extract of the novel, featuring many of the same actors who will return for the full feature. The short will run as part of the upcoming docu-series ‘Storja ta’ Storja’, set to air on TVM later this year.
“Sajjetta’s production of ‘Storja ta’ Storja’ gave us an opportunity to work with a variety of authors and the wealth of stories found in Maltese literature. We were lucky to be offered an opportunity to examine a part of Alex Vella Gera’s novel for the project and put some of the years worth of examination and work we did on the novel to use in a shorter format,” Bonnici said.
Vella Gera’s novel became one of the most talked-about releases in recent contemporary Maltese fiction after its publication in late 2012. Arriving hot on the heels of Vella Gera’s involvement in a censorship polemic that nearly landed the author in jail and subsequently played a part in overturning Malta’s censorship and obscenity laws for good, the appropriately bi-lingual novel garnered much praise for its honest dissection of Maltese middle-class mores, and eventually won the National Book Prize in 2013.
“At the time of publication (way back in October 2012), Is-Sriep was a very big deal,” Chris Gruppetta of Merlin Publishers said, “Media attention to it was something pretty exciting, with an outdoor launch in Strait Street, Valletta followed by blanket coverage all over the print, TV and online media including a fully dedicated episode of the then-very popular Bondi+,” Gruppetta said, adding that the novel has to date sold 1,800 copies, “which is great for a literary fiction title in Maltese”.