A film company disregarded regulations issued by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and the sensitivities of the unique site in Dwejra by using heavy machinery to clean up sand dispersed there for shooting scenes.

Such isolated incidents often unfairly lead to serious repercussions on other producers who wish to film in Malta at similar sensitive sites.

It is no secret that Mepa is reputed in the film industry as not being the easiest of government bodies to work with and I have heard of the occasional problem that appears unreasonable and certainly not conducive to incentivise the film industry. However, in all fairness, one must acknowledge that Mepa has a very important task of protecting the natural environment. For this reason, I believe certain conditions are warranted.

My latest dealing with Mepa was a couple of years ago for filming on the same Dwejra location. There was no need to lay sand but the film-makers had various sensitive requests including the positioning of a life-size Viking ship in the heart of this location. Sitting in a round-table meeting at Mepa with its 10 or so officers and NGO representatives, I admit I found this big presence as slightly overkill compared to the nature of the production requests. But it also made sense when considering that Dwejra is a highly protected site for all the right reasons.

I was pleasantly impressed by the organised manner in which Mepa conducted the meeting, where each person expressed his/her individual concern about the location. Their reactions to the film-maker’s requirements all seemed reasonable. As a Maltese who is proud of his country’s heritage and also as a film production person eager to get a film made, I felt the meeting served its purposes in a fair and balanced manner. Together with the construction manager we compromised on certain techniques and we paid a bond as a security deposit.

Due to the special attention the Dwejra location required from a heritage and regulatory point of view, I had employed a highly experienced film location manager to handle this location. I occasionally visited to ensure signs were up and security was well briefed etc. Filming went smoothly. Mepa were impressed with our adherence to the rules and we received our bond back without any hassles.

I am relating this experience only to stress the importance that every film must be judged on its own merits. A film production must manage its locations in a professional and ethical manner. For example, trying to save money by hiring a location manager who never before did the job is a big mistake and will cost more in the end. There is a popular saying that sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Also, a site should be properly secured and security should know what vehicles may enter.

When Hallmark’s Odyssey was filmed in Gozo 15 years ago it left a controversial permanent road at Ta’ Ċenċ. But when it returned in 2002 for Dinotopia, it filmed in Mtaħleb and other sensitive locations without a hitch. This is because the management teams on both productions were entirely different, despite being employed by the same Hallmark company.

The US feature Cutthroat Island filmed in 1994 with a big bunch of American and British location managers, some of whom were not qualified. The production left the island with a string of empty promises and claims with councils and location owners. It has taken the industry a good decade to recover from the Cutthroat Island stigma and this was only with the help of such successful productions as The Count of Monte Cristo, which treated every location with the utmost care.

When a blunder occurs as the recent one in Dwejra, it is easy to blame the entire industry. But, in reality, it is the fault of a few individuals.

I urge all local production service providers to remember constantly they do not only represent the foreign producers but a film servicing industry still in its infancy and which can easily be tainted unfairly on this little island. Productions must manage themselves professionally and spend and save money in the right places.

To avoid a repeat of what happened at Dwejra, I propose that when Mepa issues filming permits in the future, rather than look back at the “Dwejra incident” and lay down unreasonable and tougher rules with anyone applying for a permit to protect itself from public controversy, a fairer and more intelligent strategy is adopted. Besides considering the environmental impact, I propose it gives importance to the production team’s track record in Malta and informs itself of the experience of the location manager assigned to a site. Based on its findings it can assess whether the risk of breaking a regulation will be low or high and it can then set a reasonable bank guarantee figure and whether onsite inspections should be sporadic or continuous.

If Mepa opts to simply be more bureaucratic when processing future permit applications, it will only deter film productions from coming to shoot on location in Malta. The economic impact can be disastrous for the industry.

I urge the authorities at Mepa, NGOs and local councils tempted to stigmatise the film industry because of the Gozo incident to think again. This is an isolated case and must be treated as such.


The author, a film line producer, has been deeply involved in the development of Malta’s films servicing industry for the past 22 years.

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