Film Commissioner Johann Grech refuses to reply to questions on whether he will be organising another edition of the Film Awards extravaganza, which cost the public millions and served as a platform to promote Labour Party ministers in the lead-up to the general elections last year.
The Malta Film Awards were promoted as a celebration of Malta’s filmmakers, but it was criticised for being a very expensive prop to the Labour Party’s electoral campaign, with ministers lining up the stage dominating the visuals.
The expense was described by independent filmmakers as “scandalous” and “disgraceful”, especially considering the limited support the government offers local producers. They boycotted the event, but the promotion still served the Party in government.
So now that Malta is not in an election year, and if the government’s intention was to credit Malta’s filmmakers, Grech was repeatedly asked by The Shift whether the event would be held this year.
Grech has consistently refused to reply. Yet when he launched the Film Awards last year, he said it would be an annual event.
His minister adopted the same attitude, evading questions put to him by Opposition MP Julie Zahra. Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s reply in parliament was that if the event were to be held, details would be given to the media.
Last year, the Malta Film Awards were held in January, accompanied by a week of activities held a few weeks before the general elections.
The Film Commissioner spent hundreds of thousands in direct orders on billboards, stages, props, performances, lights, sound and other requirements sourced from the same suppliers of the Labour Party’s mass events.
In August 2022, Minister Clayton Bartolo said it was “impossible” to calculate how much the Malta Film Awards cost.
The Malta Film Commission, led by Johann Grech, also rejected a Freedom of Information request by The Shift for a copy of all related invoices and payments.
It was recently revealed that Grech spent over €2 million in 112 direct orders, mostly connected to Labour Party suppliers who simultaneously provided services to the Labour Party during the electoral campaign.
No audited accounts for the last three years
The Film Commission has not published its audited accounts for the last three years, with the latest accounts for 2019 showing a deficit of almost €400,000 before tax.
Even though the government subsidised the Malta Film Commission with €1.2 million – equivalent to almost all its income – Grech still managed to spend €1.7 million in the same year.
A statement of income and expenditure verified by auditors Grant Thornton shows that the Film Commission spent almost €400,000 in travelling costs, with the Commissioner and his assistants globetrotting around the world in luxury resorts and hotels.
Other significant expenses were advertising (€318,000); professional fees (€83,000), overseas marketing (€80,000) and communications expenses (€32,000).
Despite a deficit, the Commission also dished out €63,000 in sponsorships.
The Commission is chaired by Beverly Cutajar, a frequent recipient of direct orders through her private consultancy Think Talent. She signed the 2019 financial statements.
For 2023, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana allocated a €1.6 million subvention to the Malta Film Commission.
The mask of the PL is slipping even faster these days, being more unashamed in other examples, it now shows its very low interest in supporting the local film industry. It’s obviously more important to spend the money from the ‘magic money tree’ to those who are on the PL’s ‘list of favourites’.
That’s how a former ‘party for the workers’ has transformed itself into a ‘party for the rich and greedy’. Who in the PL really thinks about the talented Maltese actresses and actors? Hardly anybody because the priorities have been shifted.
Those who boycotted this event of last year were right to do so, showing the PL that they are not to be taken for ths PR ride the PL govt was doing with the film awards. I had a short look into it, and it looked like a ‘provincial attempt’ for a ‘Night of the Oscars’ in Malta, just without the whole of the Maltese film industry taking part in it. It should have been the local film producers being on stage and promote their productions, not a ‘clapping hands’ for politicians, even by the politicians themselves (one has seen the like of that before in some documentaries from a certain time of a certain party in a certain country).