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Malta Diary ~ Well, it’s not Hollywood and it’s not Bollywood, but …

MalDia 12 (01-10-14) Angelina Jolie and Brad PittBrad and Angie popped over to Venice this week-end to attend to the small matter of George Clooney’s star-spangled wedding before returning to Gozo to continue their ten-week filming stint in Malta and Gozo. 

Recently hitched up in marriage bonds themselves, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt chose small and extremely cute Mgarr ix-Xini Bay as the location for their new blockbuster film, their second film together.  The surrounding valleys are encircled by high rocks and the secluded pebble beach offers clear waters which make it ideal for underwater photography.

Named as “By the Sea”, the script of the love story has been penned by Angelina herself and is also being directed by her too.

However, none of this is really earth-shattering news because currently four films are being shot simultaneously in Malta creating a new record. Besides “By the Sea”, the others are “Clavius”, “Andron” and “Dove Keepers”. The film “Clavius” is being directed by Kevin Reynolds (of “The Count of Monte Cristo” fame which was also mainly shot in Malta in 2002) and features Joseph Fiennes (who featured in “Hercules”) and Tom Felton from “Harry Potter” features.

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In all these productions are calculated to top €60 million inflow of cash to Malta and Gozo – besides attracting the fame and glamour.

Without any facilities “The Malta Story” was filmed in 1953, depicting Malta’s role in the Second World War. This was followed in 1956 with “The Battle of the River Plate” and “The Baby and the Battleship”.

However, the permanence of the film industry continued building, increasingly making Malta a popular filming location over the years. The first step was taken in 1963 when the SFX wizard Benjamin ‘Jim’ Hole was filming on the Spanish coast when he encountered stormy seas which turned his filming experience into a nightmare.

Visiting Malta one year later Jim decided to build a shallow “horizon” tank for his next water-based film called “The Bedford Incident”. The tank was built and later kept in operation for other potential films and the whole operation became managed by Malta Film Facilities, later Mediterranean Film Facilities and today known as The Malta Film Commission.

Momentum was increasing steadily and the facilities hosted several large films such as the mini-series “Orca The Whale” and “Christopher Columbus”. In 1980 a second concave sea-tank was built by British producer Lord Lew Grade for his film “Raising the Titanic”.

In the early days there were a few conflicts between artistic licence and the conservative attitude of the people and particularly the Church authorities. In the late 60s, the British pop star and producer Anthony Newly selected Ramla Bay in Gozo as suitable for filming “Whatever happened to Hieronymous Merkin?”, a film featuring his then wife Joan Collins and in the finality a total flop.

For one of his shoots on Ramla beach in 1969, Newly had a statue of the Madonna and Child hidden and draped in cloth and all hell broke loose as Gozitans and Church authorities were outraged.

Malta as a location became more and more renowned. Not only was the all-weather tank much sought after (apparently the largest in the film world and also constructed in a way as to make the actual sea a background horizon) but other Maltese skills in set construction, costuming and the availability of accomplished extras added to the advantages.

On the downside Oliver Reed died in Malta in 2000 after going on one of his famed drinking binges during the filming of “Gladiator” and Hank Marvin was unceremoniously expelled after being drunk in the lobby of the Hotel Hilton and indulging in a round of unseemly fisticuffs with some of the staff.  On the upside, stars like Joan Collins, Roger Moore, Madonna, Pierce Brosnan producer Steven Spielberg and many others have filmed in Malta.

The 1970s was the real take-off point with filming of “Shout at the Devil”, “Midnight Express”, “Zeppelin”, “When Eight Bells Toll”, “Force 10 from Navarone”, “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, “Murphy’s War” and ”Orca” amongst the most notable.

The 1980s began spectacularly with the filming of “Popeye” (Malta still has the original Popeye Village set as a tourist attraction), “Raise the Titanic” and “Clash of the Titans”.

In more recent times top productions such as “Gladiator”, “Troy”, Steven Spielberg’s re-enactment of the Munich Olympics tragedy “Munich”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “Alexander”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Kon Tiki” and “World War Z” all have Malta parentage.

In addition to major film productions, Malta’s facilities have hosted a wealth of televised mini-series such as “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Shelly” and an innumerable number of product adverts.

Well, it’s not Hollywood and it’s not Bollywood but there are increasing whispers that Malta as a filming locality has become “The Hollywood of the Mediterranean”!