Labour Party propagandist Mario Philip Azzopardi and Jean Pierre Magro’s Just Noise Ltd, which is raking the lion’s share of public funds available to film production companies, have once again benefitted from hundreds of thousands of euro despite criticism from the sector.
‘Storbju’ (Just Noise), a film based on the Sette Gunio tragedy, has together with two other film projects – ‘Habbilni ha Nirbah’ and ‘Carmelo’ – received €600,000 through a fund called the PBS-Malta Film.
There was no public call when the funds were awarded to ‘Habbilni ha Nirbah’ and ‘Storbju’, according to information tabled in parliament.
‘Habbilni Ha Nirbah’ is a production by Mario Philip Azzopardi, a film director, who was also the politically appointed director for V18 Capital of Culture. His role came with an €80,000 salary, the Culture Ministry had confirmed.
Azzopardi, a controversial figure, has also been the recipient of significant government funds for theatre productions he has staged in Malta.
He also somehow managed to receive the co-production fund which falls under Film Finance Malta on three consecutive occasions. This particular fund was granted only four times. Azzopardi got the funds through productions in 2014 with a film called ‘Saul: Journey to Damascus’, as well as ‘A Dangerous Arrangement’ and ‘The Red Dress’, both in 2015.
‘Saul’ finished production before the fund was even launched. Azzopardi shared the film’s poster on his Facebook profile on 1 April 2014. The fund was officially launched two days later.
Through Film Finance Malta, productions can receive up to €350,000 as equity investment. The Film Commissioner is the chair of the board of Film Finance Malta.
At the time Azzopardi was awarded the fund three times, the film commissioner was Engelbert Grech, another Labour Party crony.
Film Commissioner Johann Grech is currently the chair of the board of Film Finance Malta. He has also faced criticism for excluding local companies from foreign productions while pushing forward those close to the Labour Party.
The other film production that took a share out of the €600,000 allocated by the PBS-Malta Film was ‘Storbju’. The film is the product of filmmakers Jean Pierre Magro, Aaron Briffa and Pedja Miletic.
Magro has worked alongside Jason Micallef on V18, while Briffa has worked for the Labour Party media for over 20 years. He was also recently awarded a €137,000 tender for consulting services on strategy and communications.
As for Miletic, leaked emails have revealed that he was paid €50,000 for producing projections during Joseph Muscat’s expensive show at the launch of Electrogas. The Shift revealed how the project was launched when major repairs were still ongoing and that all the efforts were centred on making Muscat look good in a pre-electoral stunt.
‘Storbju’, a film featuring Hollywood actor Harvey Keitel, has already cost the public at least €620,000, besides the funds the production will receive from the financial incentive disbursed by the Malta Film Commission. Through a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP David Thake, it was revealed that the movie has also been part-beneficiary of another €600,000.
The reply in parliament by Culture Minister Jose’ Herrera does not specify how the €600,000 were allocated for each production. Questions sent by The Shift for this to be clarified remained unanswered.
‘Storbju’ has already raised eyebrows among people in the industry. The production was given an unprecedented €500,000 in public funds from the Arts Council. The project was launched by Minister Owen Bonnici and disgraced former Minister Konrad Mizzi, who was Tourism Minister at the time.
The Malta Arts Council and a private company owned by Magro, Miletic and Briffa called Juggernaut Ltd, formed a joint-venture – Just Noise Ltd.
Arts Council Chief, Albert Marshall, and Mario Azzopardi, from the Culture Directorate, are both directors of Just Noise Ltd. (Here, Mario Azzopardi is not to be confused with film director Mario Phillip Azzopardi)
Marshall is quoted saying that the huge investment in this film was made without a public call, and dealt with as a ‘business deal’ instead.
This same film was awarded another €120,000 – the maximum awarded by the Malta Film Fund which falls under the Malta Film Commission. Marshall is an evaluator of this fund leaving other producers in the industry complaining about the conflict of interest and the lack of a proper level playing field.
Industry sources explained that the Arts Council would normally decide not to support projects which fall under the Malta Film Fund. They question why an exception was made in this case.
A follow up report by the National Auditor’s Office (NAO) warned that the Malta Arts Council continued to flout procurement rules, dishing out €1.2 million in direct orders.
The report had found several financial shortcomings in the Council’s administration of public funds and highlighted the ‘excessive use of direct orders’.
Despite warnings, the direct orders never slowed down.