The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: Priorities in the film industry

Tuesday, 9 July 2024, 11:19 Last update: about 6 days ago

Film Commissioner Johann Grech should have resigned or been dismissed over his intransigence to publish how much British comedian David Walliams was paid in 2022 to host the Malta Film Awards. Grech had done everything possible to keep it all secret until he was forced to cough up the information by the courts of law.

No serious country would have accepted what Grech did. But, you know, we’re in Malta and strange things happen here. Maybe “strange” is the wrong word to be used here as such happenings have been “normalised”.

So Grech was kept in his place and now he’s again in the limelight for the wrong reasons. This time, he has featured in a 10-minute promotional video, an appearance that has brought him more disdain and – surprise, surprise – also a reprimand from his buddy the Tourism Minister.

Don’t do it again, Minister Clayton Bartolo has apparently told Grech after his latest ego-trip. But this is not enough. The video, again with David Walliams as a protagonist, has been funded by public money – a figure of €0.5 million has been mentioned, but not confirmed, neither denied.

Except for his rebuke last Saturday, Minister Bartolo has done little to curb Grech and his ways, and as such they are both to be held responsible for the way things are going. If Bartolo is unable to stop Grech, then someone above Bartolo – Prime Minister Robert Abela – should intervene. If Bartolo and Abela do not, it means that they are either in full agreement with what Grech is doing, or else they are unable to keep him under control. Either way, the situation must change.

And here is why there is so much criticism levelled at the way the government is handling the situation. So much money is being spent unwisely in lavish extravaganzas and self-boosting promotions that could be used better to give assistance to local producers. We have been told that the assistance to local producers is no longer under the Malta Film Commission’s remit – whatever the case, local film producers should be getting more backing.

Malta has attracted several major foreign productions in the past years, also thanks to a tax rebate system which makes it all worthwhile for the producers. This system has also been criticised as being too open-handed, and that Malta is in the long run “losing out” with its 40%. International studies on such schemes have shown that very often tax rebates are ineffective. On the other hand, the government claims that the film industry is making money and jobs are being created. Not so long ago, the commission went on another spending spree to attract new recruits.

It was only last week that two Maltese organisations involved in the film industry lamented that they have not had access to any funding while €8 million were spent on two film festivals. The last time any help had been given, they said, was in December 2022 and the funds lasted for the following six months.

What is clear is that the government’s priorities are somewhat confused, so much so that local film production companies have complained time and again that they are not being supported as much as they should be. This matter should be rectified.

In the meantime, let’s hope Grech is not preparing for his next appearance.

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