This week sees the first Malta Film Awards organised by the Malta Film Commission.

To say it had a rocky baptism may be an understatement. Malta’s filmmakers were dismayed to find out that the Film Commission will spend €400,000 on this one-night jamboree, two-thirds of the total amount allocated annually to local filmmakers via the Malta Film Fund.

Despite the billboards advertising the festival three months ago proclaiming ‘unity’, this, it seems, was hardly the case.

Many film producers and directors pulled out of the festival, withdrawing their films and television serials for consideration. This explains the notable lack of the marquee films one would expect to see in such a festival. Films such as Chris Zarb’s Do Re Mi, or Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu, or Rebecca Cremona’s Simshar

They could not understand how the commission would spend so much money for what looked like a promotional pat on the back when so little money is allocated to actual content.

The government, in its characteristic manner of being more concerned about its image than anything else, later hinted at the allocation of more cash for the industry. But it seems the filmmakers’ concerns may have been well justified.

Last week’s announcement that David Walliams will be helming the awards has seen many scratching their heads in disbelief. Who in the commission thought, it seems, that it would be a great idea to have a festival celebrating Maltese film talent hosted by a British comedian who has almost no relationship with Malta or the film industry?

Perhaps it was in reaction to this that many actors, TV and film producers got together to launch a social media campaign called CelebrAZZJONI.

It is, in effect, a love letter to this small but fast-growing creative industry. It is also, according to one of the participants, a heartfelt plea for all the stakeholders to sit around the table and work together.

There has never been a better time for small independent companies to thrive in this sector. The growing number of streaming platforms are all in the market for a quality product. It is a suppliers’ market.

Even more exciting, it is evident that audiences are looking for the unusual, the special, the international product with a local flavour. Testimony of this is the plethora of foreign-language films now hitting the Top Ten on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.

The recent success of Mexican thriller Who Killed Sara, Spanish Heist TV series La Casa de Papel or the South Korean Squid Games has also shown that audiences are equally happy watching films in foreign languages with subtitles. This is a golden opportunity to share a bit of Malta with an international audience.

It is therefore even more urgent to get on with doing what really needs to be done.

The Malta Film Commission should go back to its raison d’etre - which is to attract foreign film investment, not only in the servicing industry, but in Maltese audiovisual productions and, together with the local film-makers, strategise on how best to support this sector.

On the other hand, the local film and TV industry needs to find a way to get their voice heard. Meaningful dialogue should be established with the film commission and all government sectors, from finance to tourism, to broadcasting, to culture.

The sector is maturing fast but it still needs support. The commission can do that but only if the private sector and government body speak to each other.

Then we can really talk about a CelebrAZZJONI.

 

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