The 102nd anniversary of the Sette Giugno riots was supposed to be marked by something special.

Blood on the Crown, a film telling the story of Malta’s first push for self-governance, was due to be launched in cinemas at a special event, with its Hollywood stars in tow.

“The plan was for a Sette Giugno launch but given the fact that the health authorities were changing the rules - for understandable reasons - we decided to postpone,” says producer Pedja Miletic.

So audiences in Malta will have to wait until at least next month to see the film, which aims to share a part of the country’s history with the rest of the world. 

Blood on the Crown - which has also been called Just Noise and Storbju - tells the story of unrest in Malta over British rule and soaring food prices that culminated in the riots of 7 June 1919. 

The making of Blood on the Crown. Video: Monolith

Directed by Davide Ferrario based on a screenplay by Jean-Pierre Magro, Blood on the Crown was filmed on the centenary year of the uprising and made headlines for securing Hollywood grandees Harvey Keitel and Malcolm McDowell.

The film has already been launched as video on demand in Canada and the US, but has so far flown under the radar of critics. Based on user reviews, IMDB has currently given it a rating of five out of 10

Miletic says Universal and HBO have expressed interest in it and that it will ultimately be released across five continents.

“As a producer, the measure of success of a film is usually that there is a return on the investment,” he says.

“But since this film is about a sensitive, historical event, there are other measures of success.

“We are building a new collective memory. Only a handful of photographs and some stories remain from that day - many stories were suppressed.”

The budget of the movie, part-financed by the government, was €2.8 million and Miletic is confident that will be returned due to global distribution deals. 

Producer Pedja Miletic (right) looks on during filming.Producer Pedja Miletic (right) looks on during filming.

But what about the goal to ‘recreate a moment in history’?  

Producers consulted the late poet and head of the Foundation for National Festivities, Oliver Friggieri, for historical sensitivity, and they brought in military advisers to ensure First World War soldiers were accurately portrayed.

But there are other areas that divert from the official records. For example, the film avoids stating how many people were killed in the riots. 

According to official records, there were four victims: Manwel Attard, Gużeppi Bajada, Lorenzo Dyer on the day of the riots; and Carmelo Abela, who was stabbed the following day and died days later.

“We decided against including a casualty total,” Miletic explains. 

When I took it to a US distributor, they thought we had spent €8.5 million on it - not €2.5 million.- Pedja Miletic

“Many people were injured in 1919 and if they had gone to hospital, they could have risked facing 15 to 30 years hard labour. 

“We began to hear stories, personal recollections and learnt that the whole story has been downplayed.  The story hasn’t been fully told so it is now difficult to know what the real numbers were. 

“It would be irresponsible to claim that there were more fatalities, but people who passed away on the following days and days after are not listed as a consequence of the riot.”

The film's producers - Miletic, Jean-Pierre Magro and Aaron Briffa - also decided to “stay clear of any politics” and to instead focus on the human stories behind the riots.

“We decided to create a human drama and not have anything black-and-white.  There are many shades of grey throughout - for example, the soldiers from the Great War may have suffered PTSD, and there was a language barrier that perhaps could’ve led to miscommunication. It didn’t have to be just about an oppression and uprising, we wanted to bring the personal perspective.”

The personal perspective was certainly felt on set: among the 800 people who were involved in the production was a relative of one of the Sette Giugno victims. He plays a member of the rioting crowd. 

Shot in 30 days, mostly in Valletta, the film spent a year and a half in post-production. The modern city had to be transformed into an early 20th-century set - so water tanks, solar panels and even the iconic Carmelite Church dome had to be digitally removed.

“When I took it to a US distributor, they thought we had spent €8.5 million on it - not €2.5 million,” Miletic says. 

In order to secure global distribution, it also had to undergo a series of quality control tests.  

“We want to now launch the film when cinema attendances return to close to normal levels. Minimal attendances just won’t do it justice,” Miletic says, adding dates are likely to be announced in July.

He hopes that it will be the start of a new future for the film industry in Malta: one that doesn’t just service international films, but creates them as well.

Roland Joffe, Albert Marshal, Mario Azzopardi, Shayne Putzlocher, Konstantin Ishkhanov and Sara Shaak are executive producers for the film, which has a musical score written by Alexey Shor.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us