A leading Hollywood casting director has admitted she was not aware of Malta at all before travelling to the country for the Mediterrane Film Festival.

Casting director Margery Simkin told Times of Malta she “wasn’t even totally sure where Malta was” when asked for her impressions of the country’s home-grown film industry, admitting she was “not at all” aware of any Maltese films.

Advising that efforts to promote awareness of local talent be stepped up locally, she said such a feat could be more easily achieved than elsewhere owing to the country’s small size.

But while the Star Trek and Avatar casting director advised upcoming Maltese actors to focus on their efforts back home rather than be tempted to move abroad, she said she would only consider Maltese actors if shooting here or in Sicily.

Simkin was in town to attend the Mediterrane Film Festival, sitting on the jury for the festival’s competition of 12 films and delivering a masterclass for aspiring actors.

Asked about her favourite Maltese film, Simkin said she didn’t have a favourite film generally, instead saying she preferred whichever production she’d seen last.

Pressed as to whether she had even been aware of Maltese films before travelling to the country, she said she hadn’t: “Not at all, to be honest... I wasn’t even totally sure where Malta was.”

With awareness of local films and talent seemingly lacking, would Simkin advocate for Maltese actors to move abroad to cities like London, or take the plunge and relocate to the US?

“No, they don’t have to do that. I think the advice is always to stay home and work... unless you have representation in another city and they advise you to come, I think it’s unnecessary,” she said.

“We all exist in our little sphere... I think good work is being done around the world in places I don’t know about. What I keep urging people to do is to stop feeling like the only thing that matters is to get to the next bigger stage.”

I think the advantage Malta has is that you have all these productions coming in from other places- Margery Simkin

Stressing that an actor could go to London and “do one-line parts, or stay in Malta and play the lead”, Simkin encouraged Maltese actors to “build things on your home front”, although there’s more work to be done on awareness-raising.

“I think the advantage Malta has is that you have all these productions coming in from other places. I don’t know how much those productions are aware of what is on offer in terms of [local] talent. So, that’s a job that I think perhaps could be worked on locally.”

The <em>Gladiator</em> set in Fort Ricasoli was temperorily abandoned last summer as the production waited for an international actors&rsquo; strike to stop before resuming filming. Photo: SJPThe Gladiator set in Fort Ricasoli was temperorily abandoned last summer as the production waited for an international actors’ strike to stop before resuming filming. Photo: SJP

Highlighting the cost benefits of hiring an actor in Malta rather than having to fly a US actor over, Simkin said it would be “foolish” to not learn about what talent is on offer in Malta if filming in the country.

“It’s not like people don’t want to cast locally, they just may not be aware of what talent exists,” she said.

Asked if she would consider Maltese talent following her visit to the country, she said she “would only do that if I was shooting here or in Sicily... it’s all about what’s nearby, and there are practical elements to things to these decisions”.

Despite Hollywood’s glamorous reputation, last year the multi-billion-dollar industry stuttered to a halt after actors announced they would join writers in strike action, causing disruptions until November.

The action led to films across the globe being put on hold including Gladiator 2 being shot in Malta, where the move brought with it fears of job losses for hundreds of extras and crew members.

Are things back to normal in the film industry now? Is the industry in a good place?

“The industry is in a changing place, I think that what happened from the strikes only accelerated what was probably happening anyway,” answered Simkin.

“I think audiences’ tastes are changing and there are new mediums competing... So, when you say ‘back to normal’, I don’t know what that means.”

However, Simkin is confident Malta will continue to remain popular with filmmakers.

“I do think Malta is in an amazing position because of what you guys have to offer,” she said, pointing to the locations available in the country.

“I do think that there is the potential to do increasing work... [and] I do think there is extraordinary potential.”

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