Country Focus: Valletta Film Festival is born
A turning point for Malta’s film industry
by Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante
Malta’s film industry has thrived year during 2011, with June the busiest month in the island's history. Crews, suppliers and service providers were stretched beyond their limits as Paramount's World War Z "clashed" on the tiny island with long-running UK TV series Sinbad, Norway's large feature Kon Tiki, Sweden's Volvo commercial and other productions.
However, as with many things in life, the past is no guarantee of the future as far Malta's film servicing industry is concerned unless the island makes big strides to keep up with the smart competition.
And this "smart competition" means countries with an abundance of qualified crew and attractive financial incentives, that also have government departments with systems and policies in place to cater for the needs of the film industry. In addition, they have film commissions that aggressively lure filmmakers, because nowadays, locations alone are often not enough to sell countries.
The film courses introduced this year by the local Media Desk and the Malta Film Commission are great initiatives and will hopefully be repeated with some variety on an annual basis. However, they are mainly beneficial for the creation of an ‘indigenous’ industry. Producers choosing to film in Malta do not look for scriptwriters, creative producers, documentary filmmakers or other creative levels at an executive level – instead, they need location managers, production co-ordinators, unit managers, art directors, camera and grip technicians, all of whom must have proper training specific to the film industry.
The island has a problem providing enough crews in terms of quantity and first-class expertise to sustain even the normal levels of productions visiting the island's shores. As a result, producers are compelled to bring in more foreigners, making Malta more expensive, and a considerable part of Malta's cash rebate is spent on foreign salaries.
Perhaps the biggest issue when filming in Malta is the lack of efficiency in certain sections of government when it comes to such things as location, construction or working permits. It feels like no solid film policy was ever implemented at a high enough political level to ensure that the wheels in government institutions are in sync with the needs of the film industry.
The Film Commission has undergone major changes this year, the results of which are anxiously awaited by private stakeholders. But, generally speaking, change is not always all bad. The new Film Commissioner has the challenging task of addressing the issues that lie within government departments so that these can function hand-in-hand with the film industry. The political clout of the new commissioner may just be what is needed to solve these issues once and for all.
The Film Commission is this government's only full-time entity dedicated to the promotion of the film industry and to advise on film policies. It exists to serve the industry in an indiscriminate, unbiased and fair manner. With its new energy, it has the opportunity to open exciting avenues for further progress and growth within the film servicing industry.
Its actions today will influence very heavily which direction Malta's film servicing industry will take in the years ahead.
(Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante is a producer who has been working in the film and television industry for over 20 years.)
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