Three of Malta’s top film producers and directors said the Maltese film industry will die if the authorities do not take tangible action to help it take off this year.
They believe that the industry is still in its infancy and, even though Malta could potentially make millions of euros from a proper film industry of its own, no government has taken it seriously, driving local producers to bankruptcy in horrible working conditions, with no chance of ever competing in the international market.
They are Rebecca Anastasi, the producer of Luzzu, which was Malta’s contender for best international feature film in this year’s Oscars, along with Simshar director Rebecca Cremona and Limestone Cowboy director Abigail Mallia.
All three boycotted the first edition of the Malta Film Awards held last month.
“We could have left a long time ago because there are opportunities for us abroad but we want to produce good films and series in our country,” Mallia said.
“We want to see the industry flourish here because Malta has potential and there’s a market for Maltese films abroad.
“But if our country doesn’t want to take it seriously, then we will have no other option but to leave and pursue film-making abroad.”
She said it made no sense to celebrate the industry in an awards show because the industry is still being born.
“The Malta Film Awards are like throwing a graduation party for your daughter when she’s still a baby,” Anastasi reckoned.
Despite having managed to create productions that went on to become internationally acclaimed films, the brains behind Simshar, Limestone Cowboy and Luzzu said their films were one-off, sporadic instances and that a real industry produces a number of films of that calibre with the appropriate resources and work conditions consistently, every year.
“Sometimes, people ask me why we don’t produce series like Giselle, Evanġelisti and Deċeduti any more. They tell me they really liked them and would like to watch more on TV,” Mallia said.
“What they don’t know is that, to produce them, we used to work 20-hour days, sleep at the office every day and go home once on Christmas Day.
“They were shameful, precariat conditions but we all agreed to do it together because it was either that or no series.
“But producers and crew members don’t want to do that any more and rightly so because it’s not worth living life like that,” she added.
Mallia said that Maltese film crews are leaving the industry and some of them have moved abroad where they are paid good money and work in decent conditions.
The three film-makers have already toured with their films and series in film festivals and fairs abroad and they say the industry loves Maltese films.
“The Maltese language fascinates them because it sounds Arabic and Italian at the same time, they are amazed at the sun and sea imagery in our shots and they are bewildered by the films we manage to produce with such poor funding and so few crew members,” said Mallia, adding that “Maltese producers are excellent by international standards”.
Mallia, Anastasi and Cremona say international producers want to work on co-productions with locals but the Maltese film-makers have almost nothing to offer them. They can only contribute with miserable funding and a government scheme of 40 per cent rebate on eligible expenditure while they are here.
“Sometimes, we even lie about our spending, just so that we don’t sound ridiculous with international film-makers,” said Cremona.
“I worked on a Steven Spielberg film in Malta and it was a wonderful experience which helped me greatly,” she said.
“But, one day, I would like to show Steven Spielberg my own film. That is the difference.”
The film-makers boycotted the awards show when they learned that the night would cost a whopping €400,000, when funding for the industry stands at a mere €600,000 annually.
However, that event could have cost taxpayers way more than €400,000 and the show has since been embroiled in speculation of extravagant spending and government propaganda, amid rumours that host David Walliams alone has pocketed €200,000.
In a reply to questions by Nationalist MPs last week, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo was unable to say in parliament how much was spent on the Malta Film Awards or whether the outlay had exceeded €1 million or €2 million.
He said, however, that the data was being compiled and would be tabled in full once it was available.