This compact and clever documentary showcases the stray cat colonies on the island of Malta and the ways in which human communities have formed around them.
Cats of Malta opens with a series of short clips from interviews with many citizens of the island, all of whom are discussing their relationships to the cat colonies. Spanning a wide range of ages, backgrounds and occupations, even these first snapshots really emphasise the diversity of the community that has formed around Malta’s cats. From artists to cat sanctuary workers, from children to the retired, everyone in the cat community gets a say. Directed by Sarah Jayne Portelli, who also co-produces with Ivan Malekin, Cats of Malta has won awards at three film festivals and been nominated at seven.
The film largely maintains its initial interview format. We hear from people who have connected with and rescued individual cats, team members at cat sanctuaries, and local young people aspiring to raise money to help more cats. Many of the cats are happy to remain strays and coexist with locals in their own ways, while some need treatment and rehoming.
The film’s cinematography is both simplistic and humorous, with shots that are colourful and well-lit while never feel too busy. The cats captured in their home environments exhibiting natural behaviours, painting an organic picture of their lives on the island and showing off all of the individualities and imperfections of each animal. Another unexpected but enjoyable element is how art is incorporated into the film, with amusing animations used to embellish islanders’ stories about the animals and their antics.
The documentary also maintains a good narrative flow throughout, tending to answer its own questions rather than leaving loose ends. An older resident will muse on whether attitudes towards the cats are changing between generations, but the next interviewee will be a young local raising money for a trap-neuter-release scheme, effectively allaying any concern that younger residents don’t care about the cats in the same way. Transitions like this are effective in terms of showing us that everybody is inextricably linked by their passion for the cat colonies—interviews with people who have never met still feel relevant to one another.
Although the documentary shows us a fantastic range of contributors to the cats’ welfare, there is one area in which there could be a little more nuanced. There are several mentions of those on the island who dislike the cats and take measures against them, and while of course none of the animals should be harmed it would be interesting to see the perspectives of these people included. The coexistence of people and feral animals is always going to be a discussion with many viewpoints and some inevitable disruption, from overpopulation to wildlife predation, and hearing these reasons directly from those who subscribe to them would make this an even more well-rounded film.
Cats of Malta is an entertaining and rewarding watch that provides current commentary on cat communities and what is being done to try and help them. Despite effectively being an anthology of interviews, it feels like a composed narrative that gives a genuine reflection of the cats and people of Malta. The filmmaking is authentic, and care has been taken not to disrupt island life during production. Full of optimistic dialogue about the future of the island’s cats, the only thing that could improve this film would be making that narrative into a two-sided conversation.
Words by Casey Langton.
Cats of Malta will be available to stream in the UK and Ireland from 25 September, with US distribution set for 2024.
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