COUNTRY IN FOCUS: MALTA

Written by Freddie Johnson for Encounters Film Festival.

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Launching the country focus on Malta, an omnipresent voice invokes ghosts of the past. The archipelago is brimming with memories of cultures that have been there, a tapestry evidenced by the many names appearing in credit sequences across the three programmes. To me, Malta is sun, sea and stone, revealed by the films in this programme focus. Images that look like they were made for airport adverts fold into one other. The landscape is beautiful in a hard, Mediterranean, almost desolate way.

The filmmaking scene is small. You can tell as actors re-appear in different films, along with a growing familiarity with their credited names and various logos. But that doesn’t discount the raw talent on display, particularly charismatic cinematography. Stand outs include; Mov Bak Plijz, which uses a birds eye view of a medium format camera to create a frame within a frame; the deep focus of Arcadia, which channels the Romantic art movement in its approach to nature; and experimental feature Of Time and the Sea, where drystone walls peel in and out of the natural cliff face.

The stories featured here are intensely personal, none so moving as Shab, which takes a simple, elegant look at love in old age. This programme focus on Malta is inevitably wrapped up in both where the country has been and where it is going. Arcadia highlights great change in recent years by contrasting a massive crucifix church window with a construction crane. I get the sense that there is a consciousness of being a tiny nation off the coast of a great continent.

But there is also pride. O Land of Wrath makes the case that the Maltese soul is in ‘Ghanejja’ folk singing and wants to bring our attention to this Maltese tradition. Mov Bak Plijz, set during the 2003 EU referendum, views the decision as pragmatism versus pride as told through two Maltese men shouting over the heads of tourists on a bus. In Arcadia and The Maltese Fighter, Malcolm Ellul stars as fathers; a dreamer bullied by developers, and Carmello, a boxer turned reluctant secret policeman, respectively. Both men, motivated by pride and shame, try to stand firmly by their sons but are overwhelmed by stronger tides. This proud, dusty archipelago is more than a tourist destination, and it wants you to know it too.