Women in film: Larissa Bonaci talks ‘Morning Star’

SHE chats to Larissa Bonaci about her upcoming short film Morning Star

Celebrating local talent is what we love to do! Get to know the star and producer behind the true 1940s wartime love story of performer Christina Ratcliffe and RAF pilot Adrian Warburton, ‘Morning Star’ ….

Larissa, the movie industry is incredibly difficult to get into even if you live in Hollywood or New York, let alone if you come from a small Mediterranean island. It must have taken a lot of courage to come to the decision to pursue this path. How did you take the plunge and was it always your dream to get into the movie business?

I started assuming different personas in childhood: donning my mom’s attire and make-up, emulating various family members and friends, even cartoon and movie characters. Nothing gave me greater joy than eliciting reactions from an audience, however small or large. I couldn’t believe I had the power to take people on an emotional journey, and I decided then that I never wanted that to end. I do believe that people’s callings are etched into their DNA and I’m no different. So I suppose the “dream” has been there since infancy, and I’ve been pursuing it ever since in one way or another. Other than a short-lived aspiration towards being an astronaut (a very different path, yes, I know), performing has been and always will be my plan A, B, and C.

Did you get support from your family and friends here or did they take some convincing?

My family and friends have honestly been my backbone since Day One. I couldn’t have achieved a fraction of what I have without them. My love for the arts is ubiquitous but my support network is not, and I fully acknowledge that. The moral support they’ve provided is ineffable too, because the nature of this industry is ruthless and WILL leave you feeling lonely and inadequate many a time. Couple that with constant rejection and job instability and many artists fall into a depression they never escape, so I consider myself endlessly fortuitous to have such an amazing inner circle.

You studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles,. that must have been an amazing experience. Can you tell us a bit more about that time in your life?

All credit for my amazing LA experience goes to my parents, who’ve always stopped at nothing to see me reach my goals. I left for LA at the tender age of 18, bright-eyed and bushy tailed with nary a clue of what was in store for me. Yes, I’d started ballet at the age of 4 and drama and singing lessons at the age of 11, but nothing had prepared me for the level of professionalism and talent I encountered at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in LA, nor the life experiences. Aside from taking my craft to the next level and teaching me the importance of commitment and hard work, I think the most valuable lesson I learned during my time in America was to appreciate the simple things in life, and to cherish quality time with loved ones above all else.

Photo Credit: Christine J. Muscat-Azzopardi

Now we are here to talk about “Morning Star” the short film that you recently produced and starred in. What was the inspiration behind the story? Is it based on true events?

Morning Star is based on the true story of Ms Christina Ratcliffe, a British entertainer who moved to Malta in the late 1930s, and Adrian Warburton, an RAF photo-reconnaissance pilot.

A force to be reckoned with, Christina served as Captain of the Watch at the Lascaris War Rooms by day, and entertained the war-torn populace by night. She also helped with Victory Kitchen duties at the peak of the war, so she was a truly remarkable woman whose story is more than worthy of sharing, and one I really wanted to deliver myself by means of the most influential medium – film.

The story is also inadvertently about Malta and its uncanny ability to connect people and keep them thriving even in times of extreme hardship and distress. It’s where Christina met and fell in love with Warby, so it’s not a stretch to say that Malta is at the heart of this war-time love story. I’m proud to have been a part of creating this powerful narrative that highlights Malta’s history as integral to who we are today as a nation.

At SHE, we are all about supporting women in business and most especially in an industry that is heavily male-dominated. I understand that your film was also directed by a woman. Can you tell us a bit about her and how the production has been received?

Zara Balfour is an award-winning director, writer and producer with 19 years’ experience in documentary, film and content. Her first feature documentary, “Children of the Snow Land”, won the BIFA Raindance Discovery Award in 2019. It has been an incredible experience working with such a talented director who takes the time to get to know her actors intimately and how to draw out exactly what she wants from within them. To say I’m happy she agreed to direct this short would be an understatement; trusting her with this precious project of mine was the best decision I’ve ever made and I’d love to take the opportunity to thank her once again for her tireless work and dedication.

What are your hopes for the future of this short film?

I would love to see Morning Star inspire a TV series, each episode of which would celebrate a different woman from the 1940s. We have so many incredible unsung female war heroes whose stories are yet to be told!

Making a film is hugely expensive. You mentioned that a lot of your personal savings went into the making of “Morning Star” and now you are turning to the public to help you complete the project. What will the money raised go towards and how can our readers support this wonderful story?

We want to make the film as expansive as possible and demonstrate Malta’s crucial role in the war; to do this we need some real archive footage of WWII, which we have to pay to use. We need further funding for the editing process and for the short’s eventual submission to film festivals. You can support making Christina’s story known by donating to our Indiegogo account.

Doing so will automatically make you eligible to receive some great perks we hope you’ll love, such as joining our community of supporters, meeting our stars and crew, watching the film before anyone else, and even being given official sponsorship! As an added bonus, if you’ve always fancied being part of the film industry, you could be brought onboard our team as one of our associate or executive producers.

All these perks are, of course, commensurate with the amount donated.

What are your plans for the future? Are there any more projects in the offing?

My love for storytelling has encouraged me to explore producing further, and after studying production at the London Film Academy, I have several potential projects on my slate. I’m currently working with filmmakers Emma Williamson and Rachel Kaden, and together we’re developing some exciting stuff which, I can’t wait to share with you. We’re particularly passionate about women-led stories.

And finally what advice would you give for any young Maltese women who are aspiring to get into the film industry?

Don’t give up. Yes, the industry is tough and comes with constant rejection, but the trick is to not let anyone get under your skin and to continue believing in your path and your work. There is no right or best way; it’s all about persistence. Furthermore, it’s always enormously helpful to find people who share your vision and passion. Collaboration and teamwork of any kind is ideal, especially when those involved are humble, respectful, and open to each other’s views and opinions.

Thank you for chatting to us Larissa, we wish you all the best for the release of ‘Morning Star’ and beyond.

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