Updated 1pm (adds PN statement)

Malta green-lighted €143 million in taxpayers’ money to 54 films and television series in the past five years, official figures reveal.

The figures, published on the European Commission’s State aid website, show that the Malta Film Commission granted, or has committed to give €142,701,104 to production houses between 2019 and August 2023.

That figure is expected to exceed €150 million by the end of the year.

The money is given as part of a generous cash rebate scheme to production houses that decide to shoot film or TV series in Malta. The government gives them up to 40% cash back on almost their entire expenditure while they work in Malta.

Malta will have actually forked out even more money than the published amount since the EU State aid website only lists grants over €500,000.

Times of Malta reported on Sunday that the all-time record holder is Gladiator 2, which is set to get almost €47 million after it finishes filming in Malta.

It is followed by another one of Ridley Scott’s productions – the Napoleon biopic (2022), which got €12.8 million, and then The Last Voyage of the Demeter (2021), which received another €8 million.

The Last Voyage of the Demeter – a story about a merchant ship that is attacked by Dracula on its voyage from Carpathia to London – performed abysmally on its premiere weekend earlier this month. One international film website described it as a box office flop and local industry insiders have shed doubt on the effectiveness of such a film in promoting Malta as a tourist destination.

The rigorously advertised Jurassic World – parts of which were filmed in Malta in 2020 – was granted a little over €5 million in taxpayers’ money.

Malta was also very generous with reality TV shows like Are You The One, True Love or True Lies and Below Deck Mediterranean – all of which have a plot which is a variation on the theme of singles or couples mingling in the pursuit of love, similar to Love Island.

The Film Commission awarded almost €1 million to Are You The One, more than €700,000 to Below Deck Mediterranean, another €700,000 to True Love or True Lies in 2020 and almost another €1 million to the same production in 2021.

Malta launched its cash rebate scheme in 2005 but dramatically increased the amount of money handed out to foreign film companies in 2019 and again last year, in a bid to attract more blockbusters to the island. But industry insiders say it may be a gamble doomed to backfire.

Film Commissioner Johann Grech and Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo have defended the scheme, saying it will generate millions of euros in economic activity. They said the industry injected €85 million in the Maltese economy last year, but it is still unclear how and where that money went.

Most films and series that got the rebate since 2019 and which are listed on the state aid website are foreign productions. But Maltese producers and production houses also benefit from the scheme.

Of the 54 listed productions, several are Maltese productions or co-productions between Maltese and foreign producers.

However, several other Maltese productions, including television programmes that got less than €500,000 for each production, are not listed.

Maltese producers also get a further 10% rebate for films that are in Maltese or are targeted to a narrower audience.

The set of the sequel to Gladiator, which is to be given €47 million in taxpayers' money. Photo: SJPThe set of the sequel to Gladiator, which is to be given €47 million in taxpayers' money. Photo: SJP

But while the Maltese producers spend almost all the film’s budget directly in the Maltese economy, foreign production houses spend nearly half of their budget outside of the island and still get refunded the 40% for it, leading local film-makers to question to what extent the country will benefit for handing out such a huge rebate.

Top industry insiders and film makers said that financial incentives to cinema are extremely beneficial for the growth of the industry and the cash rebate should be continued but they have serious concerns over the lax and lavish ways with which the Maltese government is handing out millions to foreign production houses – some of which are subsidiaries of mammoth film makers like Paramount and Apple – who “surely do not need Maltese taxpayer money”.

They fear the current rebate scheme is not sustainable and could backfire, and that it does not really add significant cultural value or foster the local film industry.

In comparison, industry insiders said, Italy and Spain have a rebate capping of €20 million per project, France caps it at €30 million per project and Greece at €12 million.

Ridley Scott's historical drama film Napoleon was partially shot in Malta last year and was given €12.8 million Photo: Chris Sant FournierRidley Scott's historical drama film Napoleon was partially shot in Malta last year and was given €12.8 million Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

It also remains unclear where the money committed by the Malta Film Commission will come from.

Last November, in a reply to a parliamentary question by PN MP Jerome Caruana Cilia, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said the government was planning to fork out €11 million in film incentives this year and that the EU Commission will only allow Malta to exceed that amount to a maximum of €50 million.

So far this year that maximum figure has already been exceeded by €19 million and is expected to rise even higher by the end of the year.

PN statement

In a statement on Tuesday, the  Nationalist Party asked what was the real income the industry was leaving in the Maltese economy compared to the rebates being given.

The party said there should be a co-production fund that would put Maltese producers on a level playing field with European ones.

This would be apart from the iScreen fund, which was of utmost importance for the industry to help it compete with foreign productions of a certain level and quality.

But the government instead opted to give €143 million to foreigners allocating just €600,000 for the iScreen Malta Fund, the PN said.

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