Former film commissioner Oliver Mallia has dismissed a report into the impact of the Mediterrane Film Festival as “an analysis of a missed opportunity”, arguing that the festival contributed little to Malta’s local filmmaking scene, if at all.

The report was quietly tabled in parliament last week, minutes before the parliamentary debate into the public inquiry report into the death of Jean Paul Sofia kicked off.

The report, authored by audit firm RSM, claimed that the festival, on which €3.8 million of public funds were used, generated a total economic impact of around €7m.

In a Facebook post published on Saturday, an unimpressed Mallia argued that the festival failed to “celebrate cinematic art”, instead simply serving as “a backdrop for promoting Malta as a film location”.

‘Let’s at least do things properly’

Speaking to Times of Malta, Mallia said that while he was sceptical of the figures presented in the report (“the report doesn’t even say how many people actually attended, I’ve been told that most of the cinemas were empty”), the real issue goes beyond its simple economics.

“If you’re going to spend that amount of money, organise a proper film festival. A proper film festival is meant to attract local audiences, celebrate cinema and enrich communities.

“Last year’s edition wasn’t a film festival, it was one big gala dinner. There was no curation of films, many films screened had already been shown in cinemas or were available online. There were practically more judges than films to judge. Film was the excuse for the festival, not the real reason.”

Mallia was also critical of Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo’s description of the Mediterrane Film Festival as “an investment”.

“An investment is taking €4m and building a film school or the sound stage that we’ve been hearing about for years,” Mallia said.

Festival cost 'more than all other festivals combined'

The cost of the Mediterrane Film Festival had been shrouded in mystery for several months, before the report published last week revealed its final bill.

Times of Malta last July reported that the Malta Film Commission paid “exorbitant” fees to fly dozens of actors and crew members to Malta on business class seats and put them up in lavish five-star hotels for the first edition of the extravagant film festival.

"The festival cost more than Malta spends each year on all its libraries and more than all the festivals organised by Festivals Malta combined,” Mallia said, arguing that this level of public expenditure stifles all possible private initiatives.

“Cinema in Europe relies on support through public funding, I don’t have a problem with the government spending money on cinema. But here we got taken for a ride through unnecessary pomp and extravagance, while the real substance of filmmaking is being eroded.”

This amount of public spending, Mallia argued, also stifles private initiatives in the sector. “It is impossible for a private entity to compete when the government keeps pumping millions in such events,” he said.

Mallia, who served as Malta's film commissioner between 2002 and 2007, was the artistic director of the Valletta Film Festival, a privately run film festival which ran for several years between 2015 and 2019.

Last month, Bartolo announced that a second edition of the Mediterrane Film Festiva will be coming to Malta this June.

As was the case with the first edition of the festival, it does not feature in the Tourism Ministry’s budget outline for this year. Several international reports suggest that Teresa Cavina has been appointed as the festival’s artistic director.

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