CULTURE

From ‘Gladiator’ to ‘Troy,’ Malta turns into a film haven

VALLETTA – A small dot in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is one of the recent entrants into the European Union. A far cry from heavy agriculture and industry, the country’s main source of income is a flourishing tourist sector. The last couple of years, however, it has discovered another source of financing, this time through the film industry. Despite its small size, Malta’s natural beauties have proved highly popular with Hollywood producers. In the last few years alone, films such as «The Gladiator,» «Asterix et Obelix: Mission Cleopatre,» «Swept Away» and «Pinocchio,» among others, have been partially or entirely shot on the island. Two films are currently on location in Malta: Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, «Troy» stars Brad Pitt as Achilles and Peter O’Toole as Priam, while Sean Connery is in the middle of shooting Stephen Norrington’s film «The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.» Kathimerini recently spoke to Oliver Mallia, in charge of Malta’s cinematic affairs. Though only 25 years old, the Maltese government has entrusted him with the position of «film commissioner.» «We live on a small island with an overall population of 370,000 people. You have to make the best use of everyone’s abilities.» Mallia’s duties include promoting his country abroad as an ideal place for film locations, getting in contact with producers and eventually facilitating production. «Malta’s greatest advantage is that part of its landscape can be transformed into ancient Greece, Rome, Italy, France, Spain, Israel, Palestine, or even Warsaw. This not only includes our fortresses and castles but also the beaches and parts of the capital, Valletta, which have remained unaltered since 1565, when the city’s construction began. Part of the revenues from renting out the castles goes toward their maintenance and development.» This flexibility that Malta enjoys for recreating historical locations has led numerous producers and directors to the island. Last year alone, there were 44 uninterrupted weeks of shooting, resulting in electricians, carpenters and other local technicians being guaranteed well-paid employment. Perhaps too well paid, for in some cases, they asked for exorbitant wages. «One of our greatest concerns is to persuade our people to have sensible financial expectations, otherwise there is the risk that they might drive the producers away – to cheaper countries in Africa and Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, for instance, a country with a rich cinematic history,» says Mallia. Though Malta is doing fine when it comes to «importing culture,» the country is not known for producing and exporting. Chris Gatt, director of the Center for Art and Creativity, notes that apart from musicians there are no professional artists on the island. «Because of low national incomes, locals became hardworking and practical. They treat the arts as a luxury and no one sees the sector as a promising career move. «The average citizen has two or three jobs, not out of necessity, but in order to save. All theater and dance productions are staged by amateurs. The only professionals are the musicians, and that is because they work in orchestras performing at hotels,» says Gatt. «Unfortunately, if we carry on this way, we will never get on the European cultural map. Our whole mentality has to change.»