Rebecca Cremona

Sitting quietly in a corner of a popular Valletta café, Simshar director Rebecca Cremona mulls over the past few weeks in Los Angeles and an intensive campaign to promote Simshar among films from a record number of countries contending for an Oscar nomination. She is, in a word, exhausted.

That exhaustion is tempered by her sense of achievement, for although ultimately Simshar did not make the final cut, the campaign was a successful one, with Malta’s entry making it onto film journalists’ lists of favourites and generating a positive buzz in Hollywood. These were decisive factors in landing Cremona a director’s representation deal with a Hollywood management company.

Simshar was submitted for consideration to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) by the Malta Film Commission and the Ministry for Culture.
The application process started in May and Cremona stresses that application does not bring with it automatic acceptance. “Other first-time countries were refused and I hope our experience will help future Maltese applicants.”

AMPAS announced the 83 films in consideration in October, when the intense period of lobbying began. The Academy itself organises one official screening per submission between mid-October and December; Simshar was up against 82 other films, scheduled for screening towards the end of the campaign and allowing Cremona and her LA-based producer Leslie Lucey to embark on a series of additional screenings and events to drum up awareness.

One hurdle to overcome was securing the services of a publicist. Publicists are held in high esteem in the Hollywood hierarchy; they are the ones to choose whom to represent and not vice-versa.

“Being approached by a top publicist was another trump card,” she says.
Then there was the matter of securing people’s attendings at screenings, which was not just a matter of handing out invites.

“A lot of lobbying goes on behind the curtains. Academy voters’ names are not readily available, so it was up to us to find out who they are and ensure as many as possible of them got to see the film.”

Voters are Academy members who volunteer for the Foreign Language Film branch and are veterans from different aspects of the industry, such as actors, directors, creative heads of departments and corporate players.

Mauritania, Panama and Kosovo were other countries who also submitted films for the first time. The fact that Simshar was also Malta’s first submission piqued a lot of curiosity, garnering significant coverage. However, once the film began doing the rounds, quotes that Malta was the new kid on the block gave way to adjectives like “impressive” (indieWIRE), “certainly one to watch” (Awards Circuit) and “thought- provoking” (Huffington Post). By the time the final screening came around, positive word of mouth meant it was full.
Cremona is satisfied that, despite the campaign having a very modest budget that allowed no advertising, no fancy parties or big names to support it, the film gained momentum on its own steam.

She is ultimately sanguine about not having made it, taking comfort in the fact that among the countries that were omitted were France and Italy, both of whom have had many submissions over the years.

Cremona highlights the support offered by the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Businesses, adding that Maltese Ambassador to the US Marisa Micallef and Consul General Hugh Cassar, were instrumental to the Oscar campaign.

Does this mean the end of her Simshar journey? Cremona grimaces theatrically. “If only,” she says, with a laugh. An offshoot of the positive Oscar experience was further distribution offers for the film, which she hopes to finalise in the coming weeks.

Furthermore, the director’s representation by Management 360, a top Beverly Hills talent management firm that represents the likes of director Marc Forster and actors Michael Fassbender and Julianne Moore, will open up many doors for her.

The firm will not be limiting itself to representing Cremona. Like many companies of its ilk, Management 360 also tends to co-produce projects with their clients; apart from being committed to bringing to Cremona projects that may be of interest to her, the company is in a position to introduce her to the talent necessary – such as established actors – for any future scripts she may produce.

That Cremona has already been proffered a couple of interesting scripts means she will need to let go of her baby sooner rather than later.

‘SIMSHAR’ is being screened at the Embassy Cinemas, Valletta, until January 20.

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