Maltese director Peter Sant’s experimental film, Of Time and the Sea, was screened last week at the European Union Film Festival in Delhi. He speaks to Saumya Mehrotra.
Q. What inspired your film, Of Time and the Sea?
A. I came across the location back in 2014. I was quite intrigued by the north-east coast of Malta and all these rubble walls which look almost megalithic, and there is in fact a megalithic rock formation in Malta, but obviously these were not of that era .Yeah so, I found it quite intriguing and I went there to find out more about these walls, the farmhouse and what the area was used for, when no one is living here. That became the inspiration for the story and the history behind that place played a very major role.
Q. None of the characters has been named in the movie. What was the idea behind that?
A. Malta as a location gets used for a lot of films. It always doubles with somewhere else. It always doubles with Rome, with city of Troy or Munich. It has been doubled for Israel, too. The country doesn’t really have a cinema history itself. There have only been a handful of Maltese films… So I liked the idea of Malta being an eternal elsewhere, a double for somewhere else. That is why I decided to leave the characters and everything anonymous.
Q. Your background is not limited to just movies. You used to make video-art pieces before this. How did that lead you to filmmaking?
A. I studied fine arts. A B.A. in London and then M.A. in London as well, at the Slade School of Fine Art. But I had always been curious about working in movies. So from the short video pieces I kind of progressed and became more cinematic and thought of incorporating a narrative into what I do, but still at a very implicit level.
Q. Is there a particular kind of cinema you want to make? What kind of aesthetic are you trying to explore with your films?
A. I always try to incorporate playfulness in my pieces. For instance, this film was originally written in English and then it was translated into Maltese and then it was translated back into English for the subtitles. So you kind of loose the initial essence along the way and some strange things happen and that’s the kind of thing I like to do. I also like to play with different approaches to making films and go against the conventional approaches. You know, doing things in a certain way and then try to question that and then take a more playful approach. Even the hierarchy of things within the film—like the story being top-tier—I am against that… I am against naturalism in cinema. My characters are like objects. In this film, the location became the main character and all the characters were mere objects.
Q. Of Time and the Sea has been screened in Malta, in Marseille and most recently at the European Union Film Festival in Delhi. How did different audiences react to the film? How did the Maltese respond?
A. I haven’t talked to anyone here, but in Malta they were quite taken by the language first and foremost, and then also by the landscape shown—which are the two things that dominate the film I guess. Yes, I think that when a film travels, it opens doors to new interpretations. I am very intrigued to find out what the audience’s perception of the film was in a completely different place like India .
Q. In which genre would you categorise Of Time and the Sea?
A. Somebody called this movie “experimental” but I wouldn’t agree. I don’t really subscribe to genres. But yes, the film definitely projects a European sensibility. I think normally, films are founded on a simple story and then things are built upon that, which is not the way this film works.
Q. You reside in Australia. So what made you choose Malta for the shoot ? Was it simply that the location appealed to you?
A. Not just that. Both my parents are Maltese and my wife is Maltese. And I did live there for four years, from 2000 to 2004. I go there four or five times a year and I have got a lot of friends there.
Q. In an interview you said that “filmmaking is almost an extension of colonialism”. Could you tell us more about this?
A. I was referring that these filmmakers who come and shoot in Malta. They come and they build their sets and they employ locals for, let’s say, lesser roles. They have their working methodologies, which you have to obey, and then they make their films and they leave their sets behind. So, there is a trace colonisation that passes through this. Malta has a very rich colonial past, architecturally .These abandoned film sets you find here are pretty much in line with the aesthetic extension of that colonial past. I am not saying it’s a negative thing. I am just saying that it is an aesthetic extension of that past.
Q. It’s been said that your movie is a product of Shakespearean influences. What is your take on that? If that is true, tell us about the importance of Shakespeare for you.
A. While elements of Shakespearean drama have been included in the film, I am no expert on Shakespeare. So I cannot tell you any direct influences. But I think they are just embedded slightly in my imagination, thanks to the education system. The only influence that I could find was from Hamlet’s, “I am but mad north-north-west”. That was the same thing that happened in the movie when the king goes mad. That is the only kind of direct influence that I could tell. The north-east wind in Maltese in called gregale, which comes from Greece. When the king says gregale he goes mad.
Q. Any new project in the pipeline?
A. I am working on another feature film, which is still in a very early stage. I do a lot of short films and I am always producing new video stuff and films. Some of them have actors, some are more structural, some are more formal because for me, they are just an outlet to explore new ideas. I have made three short films and another three are in the process of being made.