100 years of ‘Maltese’ film? ‘The island was a backdrop for British propaganda...’

Malta Film Commission’s extravagant 100-year celebration of island’s movie business keeps exposing the hidden realities of underpaid industry workers and shunned indigenous film

The Malta Story (1953)
The Malta Story (1953)

A film awards spectacular celebrating “100 years of Maltese productions” has been roundly criticised by Maltese film producers and directors who refused to submit their work for the prize.

With a Malta Film Commission under fire for its over-generous budget for the Malta Film Awards, many questioned how the MFC’s first-ever awards ceremony accepted submissions from films produced in Malta from the last century.

Punching through this overwrought jamboree of submissions from the 100 years was director Charlie Cauchi, whose works include a documentary of the Maltese diaspora in Detroit.

“The misconception that we can celebrate ‘100 years of Maltese productions’ [is that] the first films made in Malta in the early years were propaganda films produced by the British Admiralty. These were films intended to project a victorious Empire back to British audiences and not made or ‘serviced’ by the Maltese,” Cauchi, a film studies alumni of Queen Mary University of London, said.

Malta rarely featured as itself in post-war productions such as Brian Desmond Hurst’s ‘Malta Story’ (1953), a WWII drama that used the island as its backdrop. “But even a film with the island’s name in the title proved to have little national authenticity. For all its attempts at realism, many Maltese were vocal about several inconsistencies and the portrayal of their nation,” Cauchi said pointing out that the film’s central “Maltese” characters are all played by British actors.

“Most notable is Muriel Pavolw, who plays Maria Gonzar, Alec Guinness’s love interest. The rest of the members of the Gonzar family are also all played by Brits.”

The Malta Film Awards’ extravaganza has now brought out into the open the ongoing rift between the MFC’s historic role as the investment attraction arm for the Maltese film servicing industry, and the lack of a national body that promotes indigenous movies.

“There’s more to say on the history of filmmaking on the island – and Maltese film servicing has its own historical timeline – but less can be said about the history of Maltese filmmaking in Malta,” Cauchi said.

“Pioneers like Alfred Vella Gera and Cecil Satariano were few and far between. However, local filmmakers and producers have been working hard to change this narrative over the past few decades, often with limited support, be it financial or otherwise.”

Maltese filmmakers have justifiably hit out at the egregious spend on the Malta Film Awards, believed to be upwards of €400,000 at the very least, when a €600,000 fund is all that is on offer for Maltese filmmakers.

“I’d like to know where the millions netted from foreign productions in Malta ended up, if not in the hands of a film servicing workforce that has yet to be paid,” the Maltese director Franco Rizzo complained on Facebook.

“The outright majority of workers – both cast and crew – have had to self-finance their own personal projects… indeed it’s become usual to hear them say ‘it’s normal not to get paid’,” Rizzo denounced.

“You can dish out all the awards you want, because workers are still not getting paid what they deserve, if anything at all.