The government has budgeted for €11 million in financial incentives to international film productions next year but it told the European Commission it is, in fact, ready to pay out €50 million.
Meanwhile, local filmmakers were only allocated €600,000 to share between them and they still have no access to such funds.
The tourism ministry and the Malta Film Commission defended the budget allocations, saying more money handed out to international productions augurs well for a growing sector contributing even more to economic growth.
The discrepancy between the allocated budget and the communication to Brussels was first flagged by prospective Nationalist MEP candidate Peter Agius..
He pointed out that, in the budget’s financial estimates, €11 million is earmarked for ‘film industry incentives’. However, information communicated to the European Commission indicated the government was committed to hand out €50 million annually as a “cash rebate” for “motion picture, video and television programme activities”.
Malta has been luring international film and television productions with very tempting cash rebates, tax credits and other financial incentives since its accession to the EU. But, recently, the government dramatically increased the amount of money handed out to foreign film companies in a bid to attract more blockbusters.
The move enraged seasoned local filmmakers, who insist that, through the Malta Film Commission, the government is extravagantly paying for international film stars and directors while sidelining local talent.
This year, the government allocated €600,000 to the local industry through a fund called Screen Malta but, last week, local film-makers told Times of Malta that, with just a few weeks to go till the end of the year, they have been left with no access to the funds because the call for applications has not been issued yet.
Film Commissioner Johann Grech said the scheme will be launched in the coming weeks but would not specify a date.
Ministry: Higher figures mean more demand
In a reply to questions, a spokesperson for the tourism ministry, which is politically responsible for the Malta Film Commission, attributed the discrepancy to the demand. He explained the amount of money handed out in cash rebates depends on how many international productions choose Malta as their film backdrop.
He said it would be positive if the amount increases because that would mean more investors, producers and studios are choosing Malta “as their place to invest in their film creation.
“If it does increase or decrease, it is published in the revised estimates in the following budget, as with every line item,” the spokesperson said, adding that the scheme has been existent since Malta joined the EU.
“If this happens, it would ultimately mean that the sector is growing, more quality jobs are created and the film sector is supporting the country’s economic growth through high-end value investment.”
He made a distinction between the scheme for international productions and the scheme for local productions, saying the local scheme is “much less” oriented at financial return on investment.
“One has a return on investment for the country in terms of direct financial gain as a priority, while the other’s priority is much less on return on investment and more on the cultural and financial support towards the local industry,” he said.
The film commissioner’s reply was almost identical to the tourism ministry’s reply.