A report on the film industry’s impact on Malta's economy will be issued in the first two weeks of September, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said on Wednesday.

“Not speculation, not conspiracy theories but hard facts and figures to show what the industry's return on investment is,” Bartolo said.

The report’s release comes at a time of controversy for the government’s film incentives. Times of Malta reported on Sunday how €47 million in taxpayer funds are to be given to the company producing the sequel film to Gladiator.

The rebate is part of a generous scheme that promises production houses up to 40% cash back if they film in Malta. In the case of the Gladiator sequel, the rebate breaks the record for the biggest state aid to cinema in the EU.

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has talked up an upcoming report into the film industry. Video: Jonathan Borg

The report will not only focus on the Gladiator sequel but on the industry as a whole, Bartolo said, as many productions have been going on despite the media’s attention on the Oscar-winning franchise.

“Anyone who says the country is taking money out of its economy is mistaken, or they are trying to deceive,” Bartolo said in reply to criticism of the rebates.   

Asked about the returns the country will see following the rebate, the minister explained that the investment cannot only be measured in financial terms because the funds are also being used to indirectly train local crews.

Some complaints focus on foreign crews stealing jobs from local talent, but Bartolo argued that the issue lies with the level of local talent as “Maltese people are not sufficiently trained”.

Opportunities such as this gave local talent a chance to work alongside professionals and grow from it while also giving workers international recognition, he said. 

“We are investing in people. This is not just a question of money, this is a question of having the right skills within our country, of having the right ecosystem to continue fostering economic growth.”

Financial return

However, he added, that this did not mean that the country’s economy was not directly boosted by large productions coming to the island.

The cash rebates were given after a certain amount of money was spent locally, he explained, and it was subject to a transparent application process and audit.

In the case of the Gladiator sequel, the production must have spent €110 million while it shot in the country, he said.

Aside from direct, production-related expenses, other sectors such as hotels, caterers and taxi drivers all benefited from the film industry’s presence as it provides fresh work and clients, he argued. The government also receives funds from taxable purchases like film studio rentals and hotel rooms, Bartolo said.

The government claims that last year alone, the industry injected €85 million into the economy. 

At its core, the film industry was about workers and wages that depended on incentives to bring productions to the island, and such attractiveness might be threatened if the rebate amounts were reduced, he insisted.

“Whose jobs will they lose? What will they say to the carpenters who are working on the Gladiator set,” he asked rhetorically.

“I understand if there are other countries who are trying to mock our country because we are taking their work, but the fact that there are Maltese people who are trying to trip up the country because it is successful... I will never understand that,” he said. 

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