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Malta will star in TV, movie blockbusters

Filming starts on Biblical epic, with Knights series to follow

Ambitious…writer and director Mario Azzopardi aims to put Malta on the movie map.

Ambitious…writer and director Mario Azzopardi aims to put Malta on the movie map.

What do St Paul, the Knights of St John and Malta’s upscale summer party scene have in common?

Although worlds apart, they are, in fact, all subject matters for movie and TV productions planned by film-maker Mario Azzopardi.

“All our ideas will be co-productions, and they will always involve stars from abroad. We want to sell to the world, not Malta and Gozo,” said the well-known writer and director who has worked on shows such as Stargate SG-1 and Savage Messiah.

After spending much of his career in Canada, Mr Azzopardi has returned to his home country and set up production company Cittadella Films Ltd. Shooting will begin imminently on Saul, its first production.

Some top Canadian actors recently arrived on the island to begin filming the pilot episode of the biblical TV show, based on the life of the apostle so revered by the Maltese.

“Faith-based movies are very popular in the US at the moment, and we were in the right place at the right time with our idea for Saul,” Mr Azzopardi said.

Saul is a Malta-Canada co-production that will be distributed on TV by e-One, a Canadian company with global reach.

Mr Azzopardi said the pilot will hit North American TV screens this Easter.

Nineteen of the 26 main cast members will be Maltese. John Rhys Davis, Kyle Schmidt and Emmanuel Vaugier are among the Canadian stars.

It was a dream for 35 years to bring productions to Malta. Now there is the will and the know-how to do it

Depending on the success of the pilot, Saul will be made into a TV series or collection of feature-length films to be distributed by e-One.

The post-production, music, editing, design and pro­­duction management are all in Maltese hands.

“The expertise available in Malta is fantastic,” Mr Azzopardi said. “The technical crew can compete with any I have worked with anywhere in the world.”

But Saul is only the beginning. Mr Azzopardi has teamed up with Canadian company Berkshire Axis Media for a blockbuster TV series entitled The Knights of Malta, which is expected to enter pre-production by next summer and begin shooting in early 2015.

Based on the Great Siege of 1565, the three-part series epic could rival Game of Thrones in scale, Mr Azzopardi boldly claimed.

Cittadella Films Ltd is said to be finalising negotiations with a major German distributor and a leading British TV production company for The Knights of Malta.

Mr Azzopardi estimates that guaranteed distribution and pre-sales will secure the exorbitant cost of three series, which is estimated at €75 million for all 24 episodes.

“We do not do anything before we have the global distribution network in place. But this is happening. We just need to make sure distribution is solid. We know the subject matter will sell very well,” Mr Azzopardi said.

He added that he intends to shoot the series in Malta, provided no unexpected obstacles were placed in its way.

Elaborating on why he returned to his homeland, Mr Azzopardi said: “It was a dream for 35 years to bring productions to Malta. Now there is the will and the know-how to do it.

“I’ve secured enough partners in the US and Canada, so we can move forward with projects already in place.”

Among his other planned projects is a fantasy kids’ TV series based on the 13 fortified watchtowers around the coast of Malta. Each tower is a portal to a different part of the world, but these portals are only accessible to under-18s.

There is also a Beverley Hills 90210-type show based in Malta in the pipeline.

“This will be an international show set in party central of the Mediterranean. We have not secured distribution yet but partners are involved,” Mr Azzopardi explained.

“The subject matter for Cittadella Films is aimed at the world. We are in the business of producing entertainment for profit and joining with other companies who think likewise.”

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