A new voice for Malta’s independent filmmakers

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Andrew Bonello is a filmmaker and analyst, writer, actor and comedian. He spent many years working as a special effects and film restoration engineer for Hollywood Studios in California.

When foreign production companies select our islands for location shoots, they set up shop here, usually for several weeks. In the process, local film actors, extras, artisans, set and costume designers are hired to assist with production. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement that seems to work well.

Over the years though, I’ve noticed that, beyond the film servicing sector, an increasing number of independent artists are producing their own films, here in Malta. They usually take the form of short films, rather than full-length features. And to be sure: there are film festivals in Malta. Some of them have been running for many years. But they mainly cater to internationally-produced shorts and features, only occasionally showcasing local productions.

Local filmmakers with strong connections to government agencies, cinemas and arts institutions may get opportunities to screen their films to audiences. But what about everyone else? Consider a rogue independent filmmaker, who cobbles together a team of volunteers and shoots a fun short movie, during a weekend in Gozo. Where can said filmmaker go to have his/her work projected on the big screen, without incurring prohibitive financial costs and red tape?

This is why I created and launched Malta Indie Shorts, in collaboration with the Spazju Kreattiv Cinema at St James Cavalier in Valletta. Once a month, in that cinema, we screen three locally-produced short films to a live audience. After each short has finished, I invite the filmmakers to join me upfront, where we have a friendly fireside chat and a Q&A session with the audience.

This is a vital opportunity for filmmakers to watch the final product of their work and to gauge a live audience’s reactions. The shorts are projected in a proper, darkened auditorium with high-quality sound. Audience members can then question the filmmakers after the screening. They can also offer feedback (always constructive, we hope, even if that feedback is negative). Filmmaking teams get to co-mingle with the other artists in attendance. This, in the hope that new alliances and collaborative partnerships might be formed for future film productions.

I believe that Malta sorely needs such a forum, for local filmmakers and audiences alike. The enthusiastic response that has greeted our first two monthly events seems to confirm that belief. We sold out all tickets in advance of both shows. Of course, Covid restrictions mean that seating in the cinema is severely limited, as of early 2021. We hope that, as social restrictions eventually start to lift, we will be able to welcome more attendees each month. And how do we select which films to screen at the Malta Indie Shorts event? We run a straightforward selection process. Films submitted for consideration are screened by a panel of judges, who rate each one according to a set of key criteria (story, acting, visuals, music, etc). Happily, many films have already been submitted! Alas, this means we can’t screen every one of them. But by screening a varied selection of the best local shorts, we hope to foster a thriving ecosystem for aspiring filmmakers to tap into.

Our events happen on a Thursday evening, usually near the start of each month. For exact event dates and to learn how to submit a short film for consideration, please join our Facebook group, Malta Indie Shorts (Monthly Movie Meetup).

My efforts to promote filmmaking in Malta go even further. From this month I began hosting a new radio show on Campus FM. It’s called More than a movie. Each week a local guest joins me to discuss their film work here in Malta and Gozo. I then train the lens on a specific sub-genre of movies, discussing films in that genre that have been shot here in Malta over the years. I also recommend wider genre examples from the astounding selection of globally-produced films from the last 100 years or so.

‘More than a movie’ airs every Monday at 3pm, repeated on Friday at 5pm, on Campus FM 103.7Mhz.

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