Amenabar's mystery pic builds buzz

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BERLIN -- Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenabar's forthcoming historical film, which is gearing up for an epic shoot in Malta, remained shrouded in mystery Monday.

Those involved in the film, understood to be the Spanish director's second English-language effort after "The Others," were declining to confirm either the film's title, key cast or if a U.S. studio is on board. This despite the fact that the shoot is expected to start in barely a few weeks and run for a hefty 4-6 months.

What is known is that Spanish uber-producer Fernando Bovaira is lead producer, sources close to the project confirmed. It will be the first big solo film from Bovaira since he quit Sogecable as part of a reorganization at the powerful film and TV group.

Also confirmed is the involvement of Telecinco Cinema, the film arm of Spanish commercial broadcaster Telecinco, thought to have stumped up a sizable chunk of the reportedly 50 million euro ($72.5 million) budget. The project is also understood to be set in the pre-Christian era and was described by one insider who's seen the script as "zany."

But all else remains rumor and speculation. Numerous phone calls to production services companies and hotels on the Mediterranean island failed to cast light on the title and cast. French actor Nicolas Cazale is known to have tested for the lead role but was not retained. Word around Potsdamer Platz suggest Rachel Weisz is involved, and further industry whispers have suggested Universal as a possible partner for the project. The studio declined to comment officially.

"Everything is being kept very tight," said one member of Malta's film community. "It's strange."

The Times of Malta has reported that the island's Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara is slowly being transformed into an ancient Egypt set with columns decorated with hieroglyphics and carvings. Parts of the 17th century fort are also being incorporated in the film, with a primitive church being constructed in part of it, with close to 400 locals already employed in preparation for the movie.

Spanish line producer Jose Louis Escolar is quoted by the paper as saying the film does not have a name yet, although designs in the fort's workshops had "Mists of Time" written on them. Apart from Fort Ricasoli, filming will also take place on location in Maltese locations of Mdina, Valletta and Marsaxlokk.

The film is understood to be the first shot in Malta following new incentives introduced by the government for the film industry last December.

Pamela Rolfe in Barcelona and Borys Kit in Berlin contributed to this story.
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