Johann Grech is one of those who offsets his baldness with an artistically trimmed beard. He could be Neville Gafà’s twin.
He recently put himself on a floating barge in the middle of the Rinella film tanks, with a background of dramatic lighting and even more dramatic music, to send a message to, er, the nation.
Grech is Malta’s Film Commissioner. His brief, as the role befits, is to bring over to Malta big- budget movies and to secure enough monies for Maltese film producers so they are able to produce non-mediocre stuff.
He was given the €60,000-a-year job by the then prime minister Joseph Muscat in 2017 (earning effectively as much as a prime minister). Grech, as far as we know, had never been on a movie set in his life, unless you consider the constant media spin at Castille as one. He had been Muscat’s marketing manager at OPM, so, possibly, he was the one who used to shout “And CUT” when filming those clips of the orchestra playing on the edge of cliffs as a prelude to Muscat’s national broadcasts.
The first thing Grech did upon his appointment was to roll up his sleeves and... go on a ticket- booking frenzy. Usually, film commissioners spend about €30,000 on visits to foreign fairs. But not Grech, no. A Freedom of Information request revealed that, during his first two years as commissioner, he spent €600,000 of our taxes on flights, accommodation and nourishment. With his private secretary in tow, he went around the world in an attempt to try and lure film productions to Malta.
He flew and spent weeks in Los Angeles (multiple times), Canada, Hong Kong, Beijing, Australia, New Zealand, New York and… you get the gist. He could have saved Air Malta singlehandedly if COVID hadn’t struck and everyone went on lockdown.
Now, that money of ours would have been well spent if, say, as a result of his trips we have been inundated with big- budget films which generate jobs and pump money into the industry. But, apart from an oversized Russell Crowe, I haven’t seen anyone else filming blockbusters.
Grech wondered what he could do so people wouldn’t notice this dry spell in the industry. That is how he came to be filmed standing on a floating barge, with three other white, middle-aged men in suits, looking like estate agents trying to sell an overpriced house. (To get to this point, you have to endure two very long minutes of footage of a heavily made-up woman and a little boy, in a rickety boat, placing light boxes in water so as to light up the barges for the illustrious men – argh! the misogynistic imagery hurt my eyes so much).
Then the camera pans in a close-up on Grech and he talks to us about “nippremjaw il-bżulija” (we’ll reward diligence). Yes you heard that before. It was one of Muscat’s election slogans. Presumably, it’s the only marketing brainwave this Grech ever had and he keeps recycling it.
As it happens, one of the other men, standing straight as a rod on the floating barge, lest he wets his leather shoes, was none other than Minister Carmelo Abela. You might ask, what does he have to do with the film industry? Who knows? Maybe he knows a thing or two about money heist, ahem, movies?
The four men do that annoying thing of taking it in turns to mouth scripted half-sentences, until the music becomes more and more electrifying and, just when you think a gladiator is going to jump out from somewhere, the face of Grech announces that he “wants to dream big to inspire others” to have “a world-class film industry in Malta”.
You can watch this ad online but be warned: it’s worse than my description- Kristina Chetcuti
And, bingo, this costly-but-cringey promo video launched the first ever Maltese Film Awards, complete with a blatant, copycat, Oscar statuette. You can watch this ad online but be warned: it’s worse than my description.
Thereafter, the island’s roads became dotted with billboards promoting this one-time event, bafflingly sponsored by Air Malta, even though the airline is bust and is kicking out its workers.
Eventually, it turns out that the allocated budget for this mere three-hour glitzy do was €400,000. This irritated professional Maltese producers no end, seeing as all of them have to share a kitty of €600,000 in one whole year.
If you work the maths, it simply does not tally. Wouldn’t that half a million have been more useful if it was actually used to fund resources for a Maltese series which, say, could be pushed to air on Netflix, rather than a one-time toss-show for Grech and his mates?
As it were, major producers boycotted Grech’s prize day, held yesterday. Did he bat an eyelid that the makers of acclaimed films like Luzzu, Simshar, Limestone Cowboy and Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Valenużi were not taking part? Hell, no. He simply forked out more taxpayers’ money to bring over David Walliams, the brilliant British children’s author and comedian, to host his show.
When journalists queried the total cost of this panem and circenses, Grech simply plastered an inane Muscatian smug grin on his face and kept repeating on a loop: “It will be a good show/ It will be value for money/It will be a good show/It will be value for money...”
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark and we’ll soon discover what.
Grech, like his ‘twin’ Gafà, is, yet again, another legacy of the disgraced Muscat that we’re paying the price for.
I hope Walliams had his notebook with him backstage yesterday because he was sitting on a new plot for a book right there, starring a certain Johann as his evil villain.
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