A cinema documentary about Dom Mintoff, harshly criticised by the former Premier’s daughter, has filmmaker Pierre Ellul defending his work as controversy over the hour-long film rages on.

On television yesterday, Yana Mintoff Bland criticised various aspects of the documentary, insisting the family was taking legal advice about what she described as the film’s portrayal of her father as “a violent and vindictive” character.

The documentary, Dear Dom, hit cinema screens last week and has drawn a varied reaction from admirers and detractors of the former Labour Prime Minister.

When asked whether her threat of legal action was an attempt to muzzle the filmmaker, Dr Mintoff Bland said she had no intention of shutting down the film.

“I am not threatening anyone but I do have a right to seek legal advice to protect my father’s reputation and legacy,” she said.

Dr Mintoff Bland said some aspects of the film were good but the overall impression created by the documentary was negative and an exercise in Nationalist Party propaganda.

“Of course, everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to form their own impression of my father but saying he is violent and vindictive is another thing. I welcome a mature debate but not character assassination.”

She said the documentary purported to be a fair portrayal of her father and his legacy but “it failed”.

However, the documentary’s producer was unfazed by the criticism acknowledging that any production about Mr Mintoff was bound to stir controversy.

“If it is not controversial it will not fully reflect the controversial nature of the man,” Mr Ellul said when contacted.

He noted that Dr Mintoff Bland and her sister, Anne McKenna, had asked to see the film before it went public.

Mr Ellul recalled the words Ms McKenna told him over the phone: “Because, as you know, my sister is now a public figure, we would like to see whether there is anything that needs to be amended.”

Mr Ellul said he had no intention of changing any part of the film but a private screening was organised and Mr Mintoff’s daughters were unhappy with the result.

He insisted he stood by his work. “This is a democratic country and we have freedom of speech. They have every right not to like the film. At the end of the day, in art everything is subjective but the truth is what it is.”

The report of Dr Mintoff Bland’s criticism on timesofmalta.com caused a flurry of comments and a similar reaction was evident on the Facebook page of TVAM, the television programme where she made the comments.

Labour-leaning commentators generally derided the documentary for its negative portrayal of Mr Mintoff while pro-PN commentators criticised it for glossing over the violence of the late 1970s and 1980s.

And with Dr Mintoff Bland contesting the next election with the Labour Party, some commentators even roped in the party, saying it never changed.

When asked for his reaction to the film and Dr Mintoff Bland’s criticism, a spokesman said Labour leader Joseph Muscat had not watched the film and felt he should not comment on it.

“Artists are free to express themselves and viewers are free to criticise,” the spokesman said when asked whether Dr Muscat felt Dr Mintoff Bland’s reaction was an affront to the artistic community that jarred with Labour’s stand against censorship.

For Mr Ellul, the debate instigated by his work was already positive. “When Anne asked me what I wanted to achieve with the film after the private screening, I told her an honest and mature discussion about Malta’s history. At least, it has kick-started a debate.”

ksansone@timesofmalta.com

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