Jesmark Scicluna, a Siġġiewi-based fisherman, has won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award in Acting at the Sundance Film Festival for his role as the lead of the Maltese film, Luzzu.
The production, directed by Alex Camilleri, made its world premiere at the festival over the weekend.
The award announcement was made early on Wednesday at the festival’s awards ceremony, hosted by actor and comedian Patton Oswalt in a semi-virtual event capping the festival’s seven-day run.
Representing the World Cinema jury, Turkish producer Zeynep Atakan said: “Luzzu is a beautifully recorded film, which immerses us in a powerful story and a context far away from the touristic point of view of Malta some may know. The emotions that come up with this movie are honest and brought to us by the very well documented situation of the fishermen.”
“She continued: “Acting is more than magic - it's mystery. Amongst the biggest mysteries of acting sometimes you find people that...bring a message along with them. That is pure biography, and it transcends the body.”
Scicluna plays Jesmark, a struggling fisherman, who is forced to turn his back on generations of tradition and risk everything by entering the world of blackmarket fishing to provide for his wife and newborn baby.
In receiving the award, Scicluna thanked director Alex Camilleri, and casting director Edward Said, “for taking a leap of faith in me”.
He also thanked his co-stars, fellow fisherman David Scicluna and actress Michela Farrugia, as well as the film’s producers Rebecca Anastasi, Ramin Bahrani and Oliver Mallia. Last but not least, he thanked his family, especially his wife, MariaCarla, and their four-year old daughter, Cheryl.
Camilleri praised Scicluna, saying, “Developing this character over two years with me, Jesmark demonstrated extraordinary commitment to this project. His performance is not simply a great ‘non-actor’ performance; it’s a great performance, period. Jesmark elevates Luzzu with a subtlety and soulfulness that reminds me of the very best screen actors, and I’m thrilled his work is being recognized at the highest levels.”
Since its premiere last Friday, the Maltese language film has been garnering acclaim from audiences and leading film critics.
Guy Lodge from Variety called the film “an honest, affecting slab of working-class portraiture…The film’s striking lead is Jesmark Scicluna...his sturdy, undemonstrative but quietly potent presence largely sets the tone for the film around him.”
Wendy Ide from Screen Daily said, “the impressive feature debut from Maltese-American writer and director Alex Camilleri manages to be both self-contained, in its depiction of an embattled community, but also unexpectedly far-reaching in its themes.”
And Ryan Aldrich of Screen Anarchy wrote “A poignant and deeply touching tale of humanity… Look for this one to be in the conversation for Best International Feature a year from now."
Luzzu was made with the support of the Malta Film Fund and the financial incentives provided by the Malta Film Commission and the Government of Malta.
The Nationalist Party congratulated Scicluna and said the award was an honour for him, the team behind the film, and Malta in general.
The Tourism Ministry also sent its congratulations and said this was good news for the local film industry, which the government is committed to continue helping.