The 4 Earliest Films shot in Malta

Article taken from the Malta Film Commission

The Malta Film Commission acquires screening rights for the four earliest films which featured scenes shot in Malta

The aim of the MFC is to create international awareness about Malta's unlimited potential as a film location as well as to develop, support and promote the local audio-visual industry. One of the ways one can achieve this aim is by showcasing how Malta was used in the various productions to stand in for locations in various countries spanning different epochs. It is for this reason that the MFC has in the past year given more importance to the setting up of a proper archive.

It was only last year that archival research brought to light the fact that the first feature film to be partially shot in Malta was Sons of the Sea in 1925. The Malta Film Commission is proud to have reached an agreement with the British Film Institute whereby Sons of the Sea as well as three other films shot between 1925 and 1930 on our islands have been brought back to Malta for the enjoyment of Maltese audiences. While Malta's unique cultural heritage, architectural legacy, and variety of natural locations have all been directly responsible in the past decades to attracting foreign feature film productions to our shores, the presence of the Admiralty in Malta was the main factor which led to these four films having scenes shot in Malta in the inter-war period.

Indeed, following lengthy discussions with the British Film Institute, the Malta Film Commission has managed to secure screening rights for these four films in the Maltese Islands. Last seen in Maltese cinemas some 80 years ago, these films have an enormous cultural value. While the scenes portrayed in these films, do not reflect Maltese lifestyles of the time, they are surely a testament to the long history of Malta serving as a base for film production. Furthermore, Sons of the Sea, though incomplete, represents a very important milestone in the history of the British Admiralty and its relations with the film industry. According to research, Sons of the Sea, is the very first film in which the Admiralty allowed the use of its vessels for the filming of a purely fiction film with a romantic plot. This noteworthy quality, along with the fact that so far it is the first feature film known to have scenes filmed in Malta, underlined the significance of making this and the other films accessible to Maltese viewers.

The four films are:

- Sons of the Sea (1925) - Silent

Sons of the SeaA silent film, Sons of the Sea is the fictional story of two young men, who enrol in the Navy. Only four out of the original six reels survive today, but with over 85 per cent of silent era films considered lost, we can actually be thankful that at least we still have something! While it will remain somewhat a mystery if Malta was used as a location in the two middle missing reels, the last two reels were completely shot on land and sea in the Ghajn Tuffieha and Gnejna area. Malta, in this segment, is used to stand in for an unnamed island in the Eastern Mediterranean. Il-Qarraba is clearly visible a number of times and most of the action in the climatic ending takes place in the area known as il-Minzel tal-Majjiesa.

-  The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) - Silent

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland IslandsThe Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands was part of a series of World War One reconstructions made by Walter Summers for British Instructional Films. Whilst these were not direct government propaganda they were certainly patriotic and this film in particular was made with the full co-operation of the British Admiralty. Having cost £18,000 to make, it went on to gross £70,000 in the United Kingdom alone. Filmed in the sea surrounding Malta on a number of ships stationed here, it resulted in the film company further discovering the unique film locations offered by Malta at the time leading to the next film having most exterior scenes shot here.

-  The Marquis of Bolibar (1928) - Silent

Set in Spain in 1812 during Napoleon’s Peninsular Campaign, the story follows the Marquis of Bolibar who after being driven from his home by the French invaders, conspires with the Spanish rebels to re-enter his town. Claimed to have used 1000 Maltese extras, Bolibar’s exterior shots made excellent use of both Mdina and Haz-Zebbug to re-create the Spanish town. Bolibar is set to fascinate Maltese audiences once again with nostalgic views of 1920s Malta as well as a very intriguing story directed by Walter Summers and starring the 1920s and 1930s icon Elissa Landi.

-  Tell England (1931)

Tell EnglandDirected by Anthony Asquith and starring Fay Compton, Tony Bruce and Carl Harbord, Tell England is based on the homonymous novel by Ernest Raymond which featured two young men joining the army, and taking part in the fighting at Gallipoli. The director's father Herbert Asquith was Prime Minister at the time of the Gallipoli Landings, a fact which drew much press attention to the film. Filming in Malta took place at Ghajn Tuffieha, Mgiebah and Marsaxlokk where the tragic scenes of the landings at Gallipoli where filmed.

Following this announcement, the Malta Film Commission will, in the coming weeks, be organising special free screenings for each film. Interested individuals who wish to be kept up-to-date with the details of each screening should contact the Malta Film Commission on info@mfc.com.mt

For further information about each film and the circumstances of how each film came to be shot in Malta, get in touch with Jean Pierre Borg on jeanpierreborg@live.com. His research has shed much light on Malta’s early use as a film location, and his ongoing research aims to piece together the fragmented information floating about into a coherent record on the history of films shot in Malta.