Internationally acclaimed British actress Natascha McElhone stepped into the lead role of a Maltese woman living in a tiny village in the 1980s in the upcoming Maltese-Canadian film Carmen.
The film, set to be released next year, is a story about a Maltese woman who had to look after her brother – a priest – since she was 16. Suddenly, 30 years later, Carmen has to learn to find her own voice and shape her own life.
Taking on the role of Carmen is McElhone, a beautiful and talented actress who has starred opposite Sean Penn in The First, Kiefer Sutherland in Designated Survivor, Californication with David Duchovny, and in Stephen Soderberg’s Solaris opposite George Clooney, among others.
Carmen is a Maltese-Canadian co-production by Pierre Ellul and Anika Psaila Savona of Falkun Films and their Canadian partner Coral Aiken. The film was shot in Malta and Gozo. The crew and cast were mostly all Maltese and include veteran actors such as Peter Galea, Henry Zammit Cordina, Paul Portelli, Pauline Fenech and a very talented newcomer Michela Farrugia.
“This is a quintessential Maltese film. The story could not be more Maltese than this and it is a wonderful testament to Malta and the Maltese identity. This is the Malta we want to see more of,” Psaila Savona said.
Ellul, a veteran in local film circles, fell in love with the script as soon as he read it.
“When I first read the script I knew that this was a story that had to be told. Natascha loved it too, and with her on board it gave the project a whole different dimension. With the right structures in place to support indigenous film projects, the local industry can grow and be more sustainable in the long-term rather than relying solely on foreign productions filming here,” he said.
The film also had special meaning to the Maltese producers as the last scene was shot and filmed on the same day and spot where they had tied the knot 10 years ago.
“Sharing the day with all the crew and cast of the film was not the most romantic way to spend our 10-year anniversary but to have produced our first feature film together and wrapping on that very day did feel very special,” Psaila Savona said.
She pointed out that Carmen’s story was also personal to Valerie Buhagiar who wrote and directed the film. Born in Malta, she lived in Canada all her life and always remained curious about her roots.
“She wrote this story inspired by the true life of her aunt who, as a young girl, had to go and live with her brother when he became a priest, cooking and cleaning for him for the rest of his life. It is ultimately a coming of age story about a woman told by women,” Psaila Savona said.
Buhagiar began her career as an actress during the Toronto New Wave starring in films like Roadkill and Highway 61. Her first outing as a writer-director was the short film The Passion of Rita Camilleri which won a Best Short award at the Chicago International Film Festival. Carmen is her first feature of this scale.
Psaila Savona went on to say that Buhagiar gave space for the actors to make the characters their own. “You could see that they all trusted her and enjoyed working with her, be it Natascha or any one of the Maltese actors that we cast. We came across some really good local talent, some new, others familiar and, through the exposure on this film, some have already received parts in other films”.
She also had high words of praise for McElhone who she described as the “ultimate professional”. “She was very generous with the Maltese actors, warm and involved. At a personal level, she is engaging, interesting and interested”.
Ellul pointed out that the co-production fund, the film fund and the audio-visual incentive managed by the Malta Film Commission were instrumental. “Without these, the funding from our Canadian partners and the help of some private equity we simply would not have gotten so far. However, besides needing more investment, we also need more openness to diverse projects and a more clear vision to make the local film industry grow”.
The film is currently in post-production in Canada. It is produced with the support of the Malta Film Commission and Maltese government, the Malta Film Fund, the Malta Co-Production Fund, Telefilm Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Vigilante Productions and Ontario Creates.