Malta – an international film set

Malta – an international film set

In the past few years, the Maltese Islands have become one of the primary choices in terms of filming locations for the major movie studios and directors from all over the world. Some of the latest and most notorious pictures to be filmed here include the famous TV series Game of Thrones, and the latest movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, By the Sea. It was a welcoming return for Brad Pitt, as he also filmed here the 2004 historical sensation, Troy.

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It all started in 1931, with the production of The Battle of Gallipoli, which was filmed on the rocky shores of Malta. The upcoming Second World War brought to a stall any film industry that should have developed on the islands. The 1966 production Casino Royale, promoting the most charismatic spy of all times, James Bond, had many scenes filmed in the Maltese landscape. Soon, the film studios understood the enormous potential of Malta as a film set, and went on to establish themselves as regular visitors here.

They all benefited from the initiative of a British special effects engineer, Jim Hole, and a Maltese construction specialist, Paul Avellino, who built a revolutionary film set device. It consisted of a very shallow water tank, only 90 meters wide, which was placed on the eastern shore of Malta, at Rinella. The directors were able to use this ingenious construction for scenes that would normally take place far into the horizon, in the middle of the sea, without showing any land spots in the process. The site changed its name to Mediterranean Film Studios in 1978.

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The Mediterranean Film Studios

Nevertheless, Malta’s lovely coastline was not the only thing that attracted directors to film here. The inland landscapes, adorned with rocky hills and wild vegetation, the medieval architecture of the old towns and the imposing 19th century palaces have witnessed many movie stars and filming production crews ever since.

Over the years, fantasy and mythological themed productions such as the 1975’ Sinbad in the Eye of the Tiger or the original Clash of the Titans (1978) have been filmed in and around Malta. James Bond came back for another mission in 1977, with The Spy Who Loved Me, and the late Robin Williams made his big screen debut in Popeye, in 1980, on the northwestern coast of the island.

Historical and action scripts have set their location on both Malta and Gozo, and soon, Oscar winners such as Troy (2004), The Da Vinci Code (2005) and Munich (2005) brought international recognition to the islands, as one of the best places in the world to film in.

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Filming of Troy (2004)

This was also due to the 1999 established Malta Film Commission, which granted substantial assistance and financial incentives to the major film productions. The Commission ensures scouting for the best available places, accommodation for the cast and crew and cargo transport. It requires in exchange that all productions should use authentic and unaltered locations and the usage of local Maltese as stand-in actors.

Some of the most popular filming locations in Malta include the Azure Window, a natural arch of stone located on the coastline of Gozo and which seats at 100 meters above the roaring waves of the sea.

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The Azure Window

The golden sands of Ramla Bay, surrounded by lush vegetation, have witnessed hundreds of sieges and debarking scenes in many historical movies.

The Blue Lagoon, on the small island of Comino, is not only a major tourist attraction, but also the set of a Madonna video and some of the scenes in The Count of Monte Cristo (2000).

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Comino’s Blue Lagoon

Fortified stone cities such as Valletta and Mdina have rented their narrow, shadowy alleys and their open plazas to scenes that imitated anything from Roman neighborhoods to Beirut street markets.

The famous literary masterpiece by George R.R. Martin, A song of Ice and Fire, recently adapted in the TV series Game of Thrones, has had many of its scenes located in Malta. The first season of the series embarked on a quest for the best locations on the islands that would suit the fantasy-themed universe. Therefore, the Fort Manuel, located outside Valletta, became the fictional capital of King’s Landing and the sad witness to Ned Stark’s punishment.

Scene from Game of Thrones (2011); also pictured is the filming location

Scene from Game of Thrones (2011); also pictured is the filming location

Another two defensive structures that have been built by the Knights of Saint John, Fort St. Angelo and Fort Ricasoli, both located in the Grand Harbor of the capital city, were used for the action and events surrounding the Red Keep. As for the entrance to the King’s Landing, the actual location can be found as the entrance to the old capital of Malta, the walled city of Mdina.

It is easy to understand why these small islands in the Mediterranean offer so much to the film industry. The mild climate of the region and the amount of sunlight received – 12 hours in the summertime and 10 in winter – as well as the relatively small distances that the crew has to travel from one filming location to another have delighted producers and directors as well.

Tourists can now step in the same places that their silver screen heroes did, just by visiting the unaltered locations on the island. A small reenactment of the less violent scenes is a must; at least for sharing a cheesy picture with your film-addict friends.

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