INTERVIEW WITH FILMMAKER PETER SANT

His short films and installations have been exhibited in numerous galleries and festivals including Aesthetica Film Festival (York), ASC Gallery (London), Alexandria Film Festival (Egypt), Birkbeck Cinema (London), Blackfriars Gallery (London) and Moves Festival (Liverpool). Born in 1975 in Australia, Peter Sant relocated to London in 1998, and his debut feature “Baħar Żmien” (Of Time and the Sea) premiered at the 2018 FIDMarseille. Peter Sant is also the founder of Hereonin, a film production company based in Malta.

Eve: What’s your real connection to Malta? Do you visit Malta frequently?

Peter Sant: Both my parents were born in Malta, and like many others migrated to Australia in the fifties. I grew up in Australia before moving to the UK in my twenties and spent two years in London before moving to Malta for four years. There I met co-writer and long-term partner in crime, Alex Vella Gera. During this time, I worked on a few large film productions as part of the camera crew, which was a great learning experience. But ultimately, for numerous reasons, I decided that I didn’t want to continue working in this sector, so I made the decision to concentrate on making my own films. I returned to London to study Fine Art. During this time I continued working in the post-production sector, which was what I’d been doing since I finished school and since then I have continued to make films for both galleries and cinema exhibition.

Ever since leaving Australia I visit Malta around three or four times a year. I usually use this time to make something new, while here in London I plan before going to shoot and heading back to do the post.

Eve: You’re a film director, producer and writer. Can you let us know more about these roles?

PS: I prefer working with small crews of around 5-10 people (even though with “Baħar Żmien” this wasn’t the case). I will always write and shoot, as I find it very difficult to work from someone else’s script. But as far as taking on the role of producer for “ Baħar Żmien” it was simply because I couldn’t find a Maltese producer who was willing to take on the role. I did have a couple of people come on board and then drop out due to various reasons, so I ended up taking on the role myself. We had what is probably considered a small crew, that is, around 20-30 people on set at once, but for me that’s quite a lot. It wasn’t ideal, and at moments I was forced to have my mind in two very different places at once, but we managed and all in all the shoot went as smoothly as smooth can be. Everyone got along really well and together we achieved some really good work thanks to the skilfulness of those involved.

Eve: Are you currently filming any major movies? Can you reveal some more information?

PS: I have worked on a few major movies in various capacities over the years, but the way they functioned put me off. There were certain incidents I recall, like spending an entire night-shoot on a major film setting up for a climactic scene where this ancient city collapses in chaos, ablaze with people running and screaming for dear life. The highlight of the scene was a huge statue that was rigged to catch fire and collapse in the town square, crushing loads of stuntmen as it hit the ground. We all spent ten hours setting up and started shooting with just enough time before sunrise. They called ‘action,’ but one of the overpaid buffoons forgot to cue the statue falling so the whole thing was a failure and sets had to be rebuilt for a reshoot the following night.

On a more general level, the whole approach, the hierarchy, the militant work ethics and most sickeningly, the way people sell themselves in the hope of securing the next job is what put me off the most. These big film crews who close beaches and main streets is not something I aspire to.

But it’s an industry like any other I guess, just not one I particularly want to be fully immersed in. I prefer working with far fewer people, there’s more of a genuine understanding with everyone of what we’re trying to achieve. It becomes a more intimate and intense affair. If forces me to understand and work within the set limitations, which is something I enjoy. All in all, the difference is like watching a concert in the small back room of a bar where you can see, feel and smell the energy permeating from the performers as opposed to a large stadium gig with pyrotechnics and lasers and a few tiny dots on stage.

Eve: What has been the single greatest challenge in your career so far?

PS: Definitely working on “Baħar Żmien”. It took over five years to make. We spent close to four years working on the script, then the shoot, then the post (I did all the sound design myself), and yet the work continues. As you can imagine,a Maltese language film that some would call arthouse or even experimental, whatever that means, was never going to be an easy sell. So, we’re still looking for a suitable distributor.

From the beginning my thinking was that if I’m going to make a Maltese language film, who, outside of Malta, would watch such a thing. If I took a more conventional approach would it be any easier? I don’t think so, not many people I know watch romcoms from Vanuatu or coming-of-age films from Belize. In fact, most people I know who’s taste in cinema is strictly mainstream would never watch a subtitled film in the first place. Furthermore, I even know a few people here in London who wouldn’t watch an Australian film even though it’s in English purely because it’s not British or US-made. On the other hand, the people I know who have a broader, more eclectic taste find the whole idea of a Maltese film intriguing. We had the great opportunity of premiering our film at FIDMarseille earlier this year, and the question I was asked most was “what language is that?” People were genuinely interested in finding out more about Malta as most know next to nothing about it.

Eve: What do you enjoy doing during your time off?

PS: I do a lot of work with sound, sometimes musically, but mainly with a more textural, atmospheric approach. For me it’s a lot like cinema just without the picture, which is at times more satisfying. But making films takes almost all my time. Over the years I’ve dabbled in various mediums, but film is the most time consuming. That said it’s something I couldn’t imagine not doing.