In an obvious public relations stunt attempting to redeem herself after the total mishandling of COVID-19 measures and “mechanisms”, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli, who is also responsible for the film industry, took to social media with a video production “welcoming” a foreign film in an unprecedented move.
In the high quality video production, titled ‘Welcome Jurassic World: Dominion in Malta’, Farrugia Portelli states: “The work and philosophy (sic) of the Maltese government is that the cash rebates that this film will benefit from will result in the employment of thousands of Maltese workers and Malta will be given international exposure”.
She is seen together with the embattled Film Commissioner Johann Grech. The Malta Producers Association’s calls for his resignation have fallen on deaf ears as Farrugia Portelli rejected the evidence of abuse.
Farrugia Portelli is on record saying in June: “Rest assured that the minute there is evidence of wrongdoing by anybody under my watch (sic), he or she will be chucked down (sic) immediately”.
Yet no action whatsoever has been taken against Grech. In February, The Shift had published evidence that Grech had abused his position by promoting only a handful of production companies to the exclusion of all others.
Sources now tell The Shift that following a meeting with the Malta Producers Association and forceful demands for Grech’s resignation, the Minister launched a review into the operation of the Film Commission in what is seen to be a whitewashing exercise not dissimilar to the one that she did for Lionel Gerada – mainly to be seen to be doing something but doing nothing at all.
Despite scrutiny from the Public Accounts Committee on the surge of the MTA’s budget from €2 million to €6 million in one year mostly granted to a close-knit group of individuals who are close to Gerada, the Tourism Minister found “nothing wrong”.
The review of the Malta Film Commission was conducted by RSM, the auditors of the Labour Party. Five months on, the findings of the “review” have not been published and it is reported that the Minister is refusing to meet with the Malta Producers Association.
Instead of dismissing Grech, the Tourism Minister has chosen to be seen together with him and to ride the wave of hysteria that the film ‘Jurassic’s Dinosaurs’ promised to bring, although much of this has already failed thanks to her decision to support the lifting of COVID-19 measures. Health authorities have confirmed that at least four crew members have tested positive for COVID-19.
This “welcome” video she appeared in is a first and seems at odds with an industry known for its discretion and non-disclosure agreements. Industry insiders have informed The Shift that in all the years that Malta has made a name for itself as a film production location, no single production was singled out and given such a welcome paid for through taxpayer funds.
The video is not about promoting Malta as a destination for film production but a blatant attempt at self-promotion for both the Minister and the Film Commissioner who have been facing a great deal of criticism for decisions taken.
The video that is supposedly a “welcome” to the US production is in Maltese so the choice of language is clearly intended for a national audience.
Minister Farrugia is clearly stating that this production will employ “thousands” of workers. Whether the Minister chooses to misinform the public voluntarily or because she’s being grossly misguided by her Film Commissioner is anyone’s guess. The truth is that the ‘Jurassic World’ production is not going to employ thousands of workers.
Experienced Maltese film technicians have mostly been offered only menial run-of-the-mill jobs. Some 300 (or more) foreign crew were geared to fly in to Malta to work on this production, mostly from the UK. The latest information that The Shift has is that the main filming unit will not be coming to Malta after all and only the second unit already on the ground will film.
The reason why Universal Pictures is shooting ‘Jurassic World’ in Malta is none other than the very advantageous financial incentives that Malta has to offer. The financial incentives were introduced in Malta in 2005 and such schemes are essential to any country interested in nurturing the film service industry.
Yet in Malta, the film industry is not the prime motivating factor behind the scheme. Like most other things, such as the manner in which the government lifted travel restrictions for the summer following the outbreak of COVID-19, the prime motivator is the tourism industry.
The amount of taxpayer funds to be paid to Universal Pictures is not known. The provisional certificate for ‘Assassin’s Creed’ in 2015 was €5.2 million.
In stark contrast to the welcome and funding that is being provided to foreign film productions by the Film Commissioner and the Minister herself, Maltese film producers only recently got to know through social media what funding is available this year for local productions.
The Malta Film Fund, now rebranded as Screen Malta, was announced last Friday, 14 August, with yet another promotional video by the Minister of Tourism and the Film Commissioner.
This fund is available for short films, documentaries, TV and feature films be it for scriptwriting, development, production and distribution and amounts to a total of €600,000. This amount also includes all fund administration costs reducing even further the amount left to be spread among local filmmakers.