Film Policy prioritises film servicing to production

With a scant two pages dedicated to the indigenous film productions, the newly-launched National Film Policy places servicing and screen tourism at the fore

Servicing is king: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt starred in By the Sea, which was filmed in Gozo in 2014
Servicing is king: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt starred in By the Sea, which was filmed in Gozo in 2014

Launched on Saturday by Minister for Tourism Edward Zammit Lewis – under whose remit the Malta Film Commission lies – the National Film Policy outline the priorities of the Maltese film industry up to 2020, with a view towards strengthening the industry’s professional standing while incentivizing film education as well as local filmmakers.

However, the document itself is clearly skewed towards film servicing first and foremost, with the bulk of its 31-page count dedicated to streamlining the process of how foreign film productions operate here, and to promote ‘screen tourism’. Four pages are left to outline how to help local filmmakers get their films made, as well as how the educational infrastructure should help aspiring professionals in the field.

One of the ongoing concerns of local professionals is that foreign film productions are increasingly shipping over their own crews to occupy significant positions in the production – among them the costumes and make-up departments – leaving only lower-rung positions to locally-sourced crew: a problem usually circumvented by other film locations by imposing a quota of local employees.

When asked about whether the ministry seeks to address this reality, Zammit Lewis cautioned against “shock therapy” in this regard.

“We have to be careful about retaining our competitiveness. We aren’t in a position to impose strict conditions, but we will implementing fair and necessary changes gradually,” Zammit Lewis said, reiterating the importance of education in this regard, as having a trained workforce will incentivise foreign productions to employ locals.

However, the policy itself does address the matter directly, albeit striking a slightly ominous note by opening the relevant section with, “Malta’s competitive low-cost labour rates and lack of prohibitive union rules are pull-factors for foreign producers”.

“Very often foreign productions still travel to Malta with their own crew members who occupy key positions,” the policy goes on to say, adding that local workers are taking up more junior positions, and perpetually work in a below-the-line capacity.

“Very few are moving up to [Head of Department] positions. There needs to be a long time strategy to change this scenario,” the policy reads, suggesting that the situation would improve if scholarships and specialized training would be offered to individuals already having experience in the film industry as well as opportunities to work abroad and gain the necessary experience for above-the-line posts.

On this front, the policy also suggests that more local crew with above-the-line posts should be employed on productions shot in Malta and Gozo, and that more internships and traineeships should be offered to local crew.

More generally on the employment aspect of the industry, the ‘policy direction’ claims that a “thorough exercise” will be carried out by the Film Commission, ETC and other entities to establish “a concrete structure regulated by concrete measures” when it comes to all employed in film servicing.

On the infrastructural front, the importance of transforming the Kalkara Film Studio into a fully “modern” structure was stressed, while on screen tourism, the Commission vowed to continue to offer a 2% cash rebate on foreign productions that “portray Malta in a positive way”.

The policy doesn’t map out much new ground on the indigenous film industry, only suggesting that more funds for local films could be accrued by “helping local filmmakers access to access EU and other international funds” as well as “reviewing the EU’s activities in relation to what other countries are doing”.

On education, the policy suggests that the current scenario is “too spread out”, and suggests that the various entities – including University, MCAST and the Film Commission itself – should work hand-in-hand to facilitate a “coordinated approach”.

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