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VALLETTA 2019 Valletta Film Forum

The Valletta Film Forum addresses the problems facing the Maltese film industry

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- The industry event, which was held as an integral part of the Valletta Film Festival (14-23 June), dissected the obstacles that local filmmakers have to overcome in Malta

The Valletta Film Forum addresses the problems facing the Maltese film industry
Producer and festival programmer Rebecca Anastasi (left) giving her presentation at the Valletta Film Forum (© Valletta Film Festival)

The first edition of the Valletta Film Forum, an industry event that unspooled as part of the Valletta Film Festival (14-23 June) on Malta, was held on the morning of 20 June. The forum, attended mainly by Maltese film-industry professionals, provided an opportunity to gauge the state of health of the local film landscape and to propose a course of action that would lead to a stronger and more productive Maltese film industry, beyond simply servicing large-scale international productions.

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Before a lively general discussion broke out among all of the attendees, moderated by Oliver Mallia, festival director and one of the founders of the non-profit Film Grain Foundation, producer and festival programmer Rebecca Anastasi kicked things off with a useful presentation of the Maltese film scene, emphasising its reputation as a “mini-Hollywood in the Med” on account of its popularity for foreign film and TV shoots, dating back to 1925 with Sons of the Sea by H Bruce Woolfe, and running right up to the present day with Munich by Steven Spielberg, By the Sea by Angelina Jolie and season 1 of the phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. The iconic Rinella film tanks were used for the first time in 1964, for the Sidney Poitier and Eric Portman starrer The Bedford Incident by James B Harris, and indeed, much of the activity in the sector since then has hinged on these tanks.

Meanwhile, local productions have fared less well, as output has been minimal and breaking out internationally has proven elusive. Nevertheless, there have been some recent standout titles, including 2014’s Simshar [+see also:
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by Rebecca Cremona, 2016’s Limestone Cowboy [+see also:
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by Abigail Mallia and The Boat by Winston Azzopardi, which was released in Maltese theatres earlier this year.

The attendees then proceeded to examine the reasons for this lack of international success in minute detail. Despite having been invited to the event, no representatives of the Malta Film Commission graced the forum with their presence, which proved a huge disappointment to the participants, who had hoped to engage in a dialogue with them and thus pave the way for a more robust support structure in the years to come.

In terms of financing, after the Malta Film Commission Act was passed in 2005, 2008 saw the first recipients of the Malta Film Fund. The amount provided by the fund, while small, has increased slowly but surely, increasing to €300,000 in 2017 and €350,000 in 2018, and with a significant leap to €600,000 this year. Nevertheless, the way these amounts are split leaves a lot to be desired, as foreign productions tend to receive the bulk of the funds through the cash-rebate system, leaving only scraps for local films. Maltese features (whether documentary or fiction) can apply for a maximum production grant of €120,000 – a fairly low amount when compared to that available in other comparable small filmmaking nations, such as Cyprus, Estonia and Iceland – and a cash rebate of 50% is available for productions classed as “difficult films”, a category that local films fall under on account of language and other factors. One criticism of the funding structure and legislation revolved around the fact that the cost of living on Malta has skyrocketed since the creation of the Malta Film Fund, and the level of financing available has not been increased sufficiently to reflect this.

One of the main points raised during the open debate that took up most of the forum was the fact that big international productions coming to the Maltese islands, mainly to take advantage of servicing, have given rise to unrealistic expectations among crew members and have led to many local gaffers, cameramen, DoPs and other professionals prioritising these higher-paid jobs over lower-budget Maltese ones. This has created a shortage of local crew at many times of the year. It was mentioned that Peter Sant, the director of the Maltese-UK co-production Of Time and the Sea [+see also:
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interview: Peter Sant
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, which is also screening at this year’s festival, was particularly clever in his timing of principal photography for the movie, as it took place at a time when no big productions were present on the island and using up valuable resources. In addition, the chronic lack of dedicated film training in Malta drives many people to study abroad, making it less likely that they will return to Malta to work afterwards.

However, one concrete step has been taken to address the issues outlined above and to strike up a dialogue with the authorities. The Maltese Producers’ Association (MPA) has been set up in the last year and can now count almost 40 members. The aim of the association is to have enough clout to form one united voice that can approach the Film Commission and start a debate on improving film education, funding and general film infrastructure. A position paper is currently being drafted and should be presented by the end of the summer.

With any luck, this concerted effort to establish a dialogue with those in charge of governance and financing will get some tangible results in the near future. In the meantime, although a prevailing mood of frustration was palpable in the room, the Film Grain Foundation and Valletta Film Festival seemed determined to continue their own efforts to make the authorities responsible for film aware that industry professionals are more than willing to dialogue in order to move forward and evolve. “Film Grain Foundation and the Valletta Film Festival will keep offering professionals and the authorities the opportunity to meet and discuss issues related to the production of film. So far, in the past couple of years, we have not succeeded in bringing local regulators, policy makers and industry stakeholders together in one room, but we’ll continue pushing for transparent and constructive dialogue,” summed up Mallia.

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