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An island within an island, or a crossroad of destinies?

New film Marsapolis opens at Rima Film Festival

Ms Mejlaq with Ayoub Aghil and Peter Galea in Marsapolis.

Ms Mejlaq with Ayoub Aghil and Peter Galea in Marsapolis.

A short film based on real accounts of refugees living at the Marsa Open Centre is opening the Rima Film Festival on Friday.

Directed by Emmanuel Tut-Rah Farah, Marsapolis offers a glimpse into the life of Ibrahim (Ayoub Aghil), a young Libyan refugee stranded in Malta, who is involved in a troubled relationship with a corrupt policeman (Peter Galea) and is a drug pusher. However, friends make him realise his real values and what he stands for.

The Italian-Egyptian director, known locally for directing the documentary Burning Bikinis, about the history of women’s rights in Malta – named the film Marsapolis because he believes that the open centre is perceived by the average Maltese as a different world – “an island within the island where unspeakable things go on” – whereas, in his opinion, it is “more of a crossroads of different destinies”.

Stephanie Mejlaq in MarsapolisStephanie Mejlaq in Marsapolis

“I tried to portray migrants for what they are, not only as victims or survivors; they are ultimately people, stranded in this place, removed from their home and reacting differently to their situation,” said Mr Farah, who wrote the script together with a refugee from Libya and another from Syria.

“Some feel depressed because what they had is gone but others take the challenges in their stride as an incentive to do better than they did in their previous life. Ibrahim, like many young adults, is searching for a meaning to it all, his whole reality has been put on hold and the best way he could cope with that was to get involved with drugs.

I tried to portray migrants for what they are, not only as victims or survivors

The policeman’s role is also meaningful, added Mr Farah.

“It represents a section of society that should stand for rule of law but all too often is bent on darker political purposes.”

The film, which was shot at the Marsa waterfront, also includes a female character, a young woman named Catherine (Stephanie Mejlaq), who is in search of her roots. She starts off by visiting the place where her father had attended school, only to discover that it is now a drug-dealing hub and refugee centre.

“I think she represents somehow yet another face of the issue of identity,” said Mr Farah. “She is clearly a catalyst for Ibrahim, but I also believe that the whole situation acts as a catalyst for her. As a person whose father was Maltese but born in Tunisia, she clearly shows aspects of displacement. I believe that some of the scars of these social phenomena are not limited to the individual level, but are hereditary and percolate in language and education.”

Marsapolis was shot at Marsa waterfront.Marsapolis was shot at Marsa waterfront.

The film, however, does not try to deliver any particular message; Mr Farah said he simply wanted to tell this story.

“It is up to the viewer to decipher messages, if any, and it would be highly personal.”

The film’s ending too is subject to interpretation, but according to the director it ends with “a dash of hope”.

Marsapolis was funded by a film grant offered by Rima, an anthropological and artistic project born in 2014 aimed at exploring, rethinking and reshaping the multifaceted aspects of displacement, through a series of creative and multidisciplinary initiatives. It was produced by Shadeena Productions, with the support of Pineapple Media and Rock Productions Malta and other individuals in the film-making industry.

French/Italian/Tunisian drama The Order of ThingsFrench/Italian/Tunisian drama The Order of Things

About the RIMA FILM festival

The Dutch film Tout le Monde Aime le Bord de La MerThe Dutch film Tout le Monde Aime le Bord de La Mer

The Rima Film Festival, one of the events linked to the Rima exhibition will feature other short films revolving around Malta. These include Un Gout-Sucre-Salé about a French Maltese photographer who comes to Malta to find out more about her father’s migration story to Malta after his recent passing and two short films produced during a video workshop at the Sudanese Migrant Association in Ħamrun. Other films showing during the three-day festival are the Dutch documentary A Walnut Tree, Dutch film Tout le Monde Aime le Bord de la Mer, French/Italian/Tunisian drama The Order of Things, Italian MTV-style film Summertime and German drama A Dysfunctional Cat.

The Rima Film Festival forms part of the cultural programme of Valletta 2018, European Capital of Culture (Exile and Conflict strand). It is also supported by UNHCR.

All films are being screened at St James Cavalier in Valletta. For a detailed schedule, visit www.kreattivita.org.

Dutch documentary A Walnut TreeDutch documentary A Walnut Tree

German drama A Dysfunctional CatGerman drama A Dysfunctional Cat

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