Just Noise Limited, a company set up by the government and private local filmmakers to produce the Sette Giugno film that received some €500,000 in taxpayers’ funds, is almost €2 million in debt, The Shift can reveal.
Blood on the Crown, released in 2021, two years late, tells the historical events of 7 June 1919, where riots and the shooting of four people by British soldiers led to a bigger push for self-governance.
In 2019, the government set up Just Noise Limited, along with private filmmakers, all close to the Labour Party, to produce the film, which was billed as having international appeal.
But it started racking up serious debts just a year after its incorporation, before the film hit cinema screens, reaching almost €2 million by the end of 2020.
According to the company’s auditors, while “the company incurred a loss of €169,000 by the end of 2020, as of the date, the company’s current liabilities exceeded its total assets by €1.8 million.”
“These events or conditions indicate that the material uncertainty exists that may cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”, the auditors underlined – indicating in professional terms that the company is heading towards bankruptcy.
The company’s annual reports have not yet been made public, while the only accounts published for 2020 omit the Income Statement, which would have shown the total amount of public funds received.
The auditors noted, “this page has been left intentionally empty”, adding, “the Directors of the Company have elected not to file the Income Statement”.
The Shift contacted the head of the Arts Council, Albert Marshall, asking for information on viewing figures, final costs, revenue, and the process whereby some €500,000 of public money was handed from the Arts Council to the film company without any tender or public call. Marshall did not respond by the time of publication.
The film has just a 5.2 out of 10 rating on IMDb and is described as “bland”, “not at a professional level”, and does not even feature on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the world’s leading movie review sites.
Industry sources that spoke to The Shift feared that much more than half a million euros was passed on to the producers and that this money was lost as the film ultimately flopped at the box office.
Marshall, Johann Grech and Owen Bonnici warned in 2019
The Arts Council, the Malta Film Commission and the responsible Minister, Owen Bonnici, had been forewarned by the Malta Film Producers Association and individual local filmmakers that the investment was not a good idea and would put public funds at risk.
Nevertheless, the investment was given the go-ahead.
Apart from the government’s 50% shareholding, Just Noise Ltd – also has Jean Pierre Magro, the film’s scriptwriter and a former consultant to the Labour Party’s One TV, Chairman Jason Micallef, Aaron Briffa, a former employee of One TV and Pedja Miletic, another private filmmaker as private shareholders.
All are close personal friends of Marshall, a government appointee and the former CEO of Labour’s TV station.
At the time of the deal, which was also pushed by Film Commissioner Johann Grech, now also under scrutiny for his administration of public funds, individual film producers described this initiative as “a sweet gift of €500,000 to three private film producers.”
The Malta Film Producers Association had raised serious questions over how the funding was channelled into the film without any competitive process.
At the time, Albert Marshall and Johann Grech defended the investment into a single production, insisting it would succeed.