Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo has defended the lavish Mediterrane Film Festival but will not say how much it cost before having a detailed report showing how it has benefitted the country.
“Those who are saying that this was a spendthrift have absolutely no idea how the film industry works and have no vision for it,” he said, days after the taxpayer-funded event.
The festival saw actors and producers flown to Malta, put up in five-star hotels and treated to yacht trips and a black-tie gala film awards event at Fort Manoel hosted by British author and comedian David Walliams.
The Golden Bee awards show included a live orchestra and a performance by opera singer Joseph Calleja.
The lack of transparency over the budget for the event, which insiders say surpasses well over €1 million, has raised concerns over value for money and possible abuse of public funds.
Fielding Times of Malta questions on Monday, Bartolo said he does not want to publish the cost before having a detailed report of how the country benefitted from the event.
A report highlighting the “exact cost”, alongside its value for money, will be completed and published within the next three months, he said.
“It’s useless to say how much we’re spending if we do not also indicate what we’re getting back as a country. And the narrative that the country got nothing out of [the film festival] is not true,” he said.
Among the perks for those flown out by the Malta Film Commission for the five-day event were business class seats, a ‘plus one’ ticket for some visitors, a chauffeur service and all-expenses paid lunches, dinners and parties.
Bartolo would not say whether the five-day festival cost more than €1 million and whether direct orders were dished out to make it happen. He would only say all the details will be included in the final report.
“If I tell you now how much it cost, your next question would be what we got in return. And we will be publishing the details of that within the next three months,” he insisted.
Film industry insiders told Times of Malta they are seriously concerned over the Film Commission’s excessive spending, fearing it will not foster the Maltese film industry in the long run and is not sustainable.
Bartolo had also promised to publish the figures showing how much the government spent on last year’s controversial Malta Film Awards ceremony – another lavish event that drew criticism for being an out-of-control spending spree on taxpayer money.
But he never did. When he finally published the figure of €1.3 million, it covered the amount spent on the entire film week but the actual cost of the awards night, which was held during that week, was never revealed.
The Malta Film Commission’s spending has been largely shrouded in mystery over the past years, with both the tourism minister and Film Commissioner Johann Grech continuously insisting that the money spent is an investment in an ever-growing film industry.
They said the film industry injected €85 million into the Maltese economy last year alone but the figure was not broken down and it is still unclear how and where the economy absorbed the money.
Nonetheless, Malta did attract a record number of films and television productions last year and a new record will be set again this year, thanks to a very generous cash rebate scheme the government offers film producers.