Amenabar mystery builds buzz

Maltese prod'n has budget, sets and lots of questions

Oscar-winning director Alejandro Amenabar's forthcoming historical picture, which is gearing up for a shoot in Malta, remains shrouded in mystery.

Those involved in the film, understood to be the Spanish director's second English-language effort after "The Others," on Monday declined to confirm 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 a few weeks and run for four to six 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 ($72.5 million) budget. The project also is understood to be set in the pre-Christian era and was described by one insider who has 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 suggested that Rachel Weisz is involved, and further industry whispers have suggested Universal as a possible partner for the project. The studio declined comment.

"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 being transformed into an ancient Egypt set with columns decorated with hieroglyphics and carvings. Parts of the 17th century fort also are being incorporated in the film, with a primitive church being constructed in part of it. Nearly 400 locals already have been employed in preparation for the movie.

Spanish line producer Jose Louis Escolar is quoted by the newspaper as saying the film does not have a name, though designs in the fort's workshops had "Mists of Time" written on them. Apart from Fort Ricasoli, filming also will take place on location in the 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 in December.

Pamela Rolfe in Barcelona and Borys Kit contributed to this report.