The Malta Film Commission has declined Freedom of Information requests by The Shift asking for documentation on the expenditure on the lavish Mediterrane Film Festival held last June, claiming that “the majority of the documents requested are in the process of being published”.
The Shift also asked for copies of the contracts awarded to eight speakers who endorsed and spoke on panels at the festival between 25 June and 1 July. In response, the Film Commission claimed it did not hold copies of the requested contracts.
In its FOI rejections, the Film Commission quoted article 14(d) of the Freedom of Information Act, which states that requests for information may be rejected if “the document requested is publicly available or will be published within three months”.
Apart from the contracts awarded to the panel speakers, The Shift asked for documentation showing expenditure on the event equipment and itemised costs on advertising materials, marketing, and public figure endorsements. The Commission did not indicate which of the documentation requested fell under “the majority of documents” it claims are in the process of being published.
Under Article 8 of the Freedom of Information Act, the Commission was also obliged to transfer the request for the panellists’ contracts to the authority which holds them. No indication of this transfer was given in the Commission’s rejection email.
The festival expenses were also shielded from the public eye by Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo, under whose charge the Film Commission is placed after he refused to answer questions on the expenses by opposition MP Julie Zahra.
Bartolo, who should have presumably been prepared to answer the questions given the controversy and speculation over the event’s price tag, had no reply for Zahra, except for the standard time-buying response that “the information will be given in another sitting”.
One of the public figures brought in to endorse and speak at the event was David Walliams, whose name made a splash for similar reasons at the Malta Film Awards, which ballooned the €400,000 originally budgeted for the event to €1.3 million.
In addition to Walliams, the event featured celebrities such as Jared Harris, Eric Bana, Darko Peric, Natascha McElhone and Annabelle Wallis. It also saw the participation of around 70 judges, critics, journalists, and various industry professionals.
The Times of Malta has estimated the event, for which no expense was seemingly spared, to have set the public coffers back at least €1 million, but industry insiders have termed the figure as being very conservative.
In a 2020 report on public accounts, the National Audit Office criticised the Malta Film Commission for its “extravagance in the use of public funds”. The Auditor General found the Malta Film Commission lacked adequate internal controls that “resulted in a concentration of authority with the Film Commissioner and no independent oversight,” contributing to “a disregard to budgetary controls and standing regulations”.