Humanity & Community Form the Heart of ‘Cats of Malta’

Before I was born, my mother had a cat with long black fur and green eyes. She had many cats, but those who are familiar with cats know what it means when a cat is really ‘yours’. The day she brought me home from the hospital, the cat took one look at me, a quick sniff, and from then on she didn’t leave my side. My mother lost her cat of years to someone who just showed up on this earth. 

My cat slept at my feet or cuddled up next to me. She followed me around the house. We played outside together. She caught chipmunks and bunnies and kindly brought them into the house where she would leave them on my bed for me. (ew)

She passed away when I was ten. It turned my world upside down. We had just moved halfway across the country, I was still trying to adjust to a new town, new people, new schools. And then I lost my best friend. 

We still had one cat in the house. My mother was more than happy to finally be down to one despite the rest of us wanting more. When a family friend came to visit, they took a look at local events and stumbled upon a cat show. My mother said fine, but we’re not bringing home a cat. 

We brought home two. 

The ASPCA had a booth where they just happened to have a long haired black cat with green eyes. I had to have her even if it meant taking her brother, a fluffy white cat, home too. Mia (named after Princess Mia in the Princess Diaries) was nobody’s girl. She was wildly independent, skittish, affectionate only when it suited her. 

Her brother Milo was the complete opposite. He wanted to sit on the couch and have his belly scratched all day long. My family told me just a few years ago that they debated whether or not to tell me that even while I was trying to make Mia love me, Milo was absolutely ‘my’ cat.

Click on image to enlarge

However it happened, I realized the truth, and Milo was my cat for over eighteen years. He came to live with me in Washington, DC, Boston, California and finally New York City.

When Milo passed away, I thought I was done with cats. But less than a month later I was fostering kittens. I couldn’t stand my empty apartment, I wanted someone to come home to. I spent almost four years fostering. It was an incredible experience watching little baby cats grow up and explore the world.

When I finally found the one for me, it was a relief to have my own again, but I still miss the joy of having kittens around. I was, in all honesty, shopping for my next cat despite my protestations that I was ready for a break. I got to meet some amazing little kitties, and share them with friends who would come over to play with them. My mother even adopted one of my fosters who I then flew all the way out to her in California.

‘Cats of Malta’ is a portrait of people who understand the love and the unique magic of cats. 

My whole life is intertwined with the lives of cats. They’ve been ever-present, cherished members of my family. So, watching Cats of Malta, I felt like I was watching an extended branch of my own community. It’s a portrait of people who understand the love and the unique magic of cats. 

Director Sarah Jayne’s Cats of Malta is a documentary film which explores cat culture on the island of Malta. When you picture this stunning isle off the southern coast of Italy, you probably summon up images of turquoise seas, sandy beaches, delicious food. This is all accurate, but there’s so much more to this island nation. 

Malta is home to approximately 450,000 people and close to 100,000 stray cats. They’re part of the landscape. They’re part of the community. They roam the streets; they fish and hunt; they beg at restaurants. Cats form a very specific part of Malta’s identity.

The individuals interviewed are eclectic and vibrant. They’re all tied together by their love for their local cats.

Cats of Malta introduces us to the human residents of the island focusing on those who help to feed, rehabilitate, and spay/neuter resident cats. We also meet the local felines including those like feisty Naanu (hopping around on three legs), and local icons like Bob (who Sarah Jayne lovingly nicknamed The King). We’re told firsthand accounts of the people who decided to put their energy and funds into helping these animals survive. 

Some of the stories are humorous, others touching, and a few are sad. The individuals interviewed are eclectic and vibrant. They range from older women to a wonderfully charismatic fourteen year-old boy. They’re all tied together by their love for their local cats.

This may sound like a charming jaunt around a beautiful country, but Cats of Malta is so much more than a tale of a tail. What this documentary speaks to above all is the communal power of cats. Malta has largely embraced its four-legged residents, and not only considers them worthy of respect but also worthy of help. 

Those interviewed often start their stories saying they fed one cat…and then five cats…and soon enough they had fifty on their hands. They use their personal resources, including their personal time, to nurture their neighborhood cats. These are everyday people with an unstoppable love for animals. They are quietly doing their part, shrugging it off like it’s nothing more than logic when in fact it is a show of pure humanity and compassion. 

It’s easy to dismiss cats as hostile, mean, anti-social. This is a myth cat lovers have been trying desperately to bust. Cats of Malta recognizes this and celebrates the independent nature of cats and their varied personalities. Their Maltese caretakers talk with pride of their intelligence, daring, and mischief whether it is or isn’t accompanied by unconditional love.

These are everyday people with an unstoppable love for animals. They are quietly doing their part, shrugging it off like it’s nothing more than logic when in fact it is a show of pure humanity and compassion. 

This film is both a thank you to those who care for the cats and a thank you to the cats who bring something to our lives. It also carefully navigates the need for more support of those who care for the cats including individuals and local groups. These themes are explored through the one-of-a-kind culture of Malta where sand and sun aren’t nearly as interesting as the welcoming people who reside there.

Roza Zammit Salinos who runs the Cat Village sums things up beautifully when she says, “We can’t live without animals. We have to share life. For the little you give them, they give you so much in return, believe me.”

Cats of Malta is available now to stream and own on DVD. Don’t miss this touching documentary, a perfect ‘just what I needed’ kind of watch.

© Julie Musbach (12/18/23) Special for FF2 Media

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Watch the trailer for Cats of Malta here.

Find out where to watch Cats of Malta here.

Learn more about Sarah Jayne’s work here.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo: Local icon Bob, lovingly known as “The King.”

Middle Photo: Fluffy white Milo was definitely “my cat” for over eighteen years.

Bottom Photo: First someone will feed one cat… and then five cats… and soon enough…

Production stills and poster image provided by Cats of Malta (dir. Sarah Jayne, Nexus Production Group).

With personal thanks to my assistant editor, Mr. Stevie Nyx.

Tags: Australian filmmakers, cats, Cats of Malta, Documentary Films, Female director, International SWANs, Julie Musbach, Sarah Jayne, Sarah Jayne Portelli

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Julie Musbach began her career in Sydney, Australia and has since tackled many a career. From film and television production to theatre publicity and journalism, she has enjoyed life on set and on the red carpet. Julie has also spent time living in Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and Edinburgh, Scotland. Currently residing in New York City, she fosters a passionate love for medical dramas, cheese, and a little black cat called Stevie Nyx.
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