Malta’s film ‘industry’

In other words whether the bait is more expensive than the fish that it will catch is a question that can only be answered in the future

Mediterrane Film Festival has raised the hackles of many political observers
Mediterrane Film Festival has raised the hackles of many political observers

An opinion piece in a recent issue of The Times - written by Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante - attempted to put the record straight about the film industry under the last Nationalist administration.

It is incredible that practically nobody from the PN said anything about the current hype on the film ‘industry’ and the denigration of what used to happen under a PN administration.

In fact, it had to be an apolitical observer to attempt to correct certain misleading impressions disseminated by the current administration.

Scerri-Ferrante concluded correctly that Labour is more proactive where the film industry is concerned. Its motives are clearly driven by various agendas but one cannot say no progress is being made when compared to what used to happen under the PN. He did this with an interesting proviso: the industry is only ‘strong’ when there is a healthy amount of local crew and local infrastructure to meet the demands of filming and when the turnover is not dependent on large sums of taxpayers' money given to blockbuster films to help fund their foreign crew and recoup expenses made in hiring of equipment.

The recent spate of what seems to many as unlimited spending for the organisation of the

Mediterrane Film Festival - plus the convention organised in parallel with it - has raised the hackles of many political observers. Will all this money ‘invested’ in the film industry give an adequate return or is this spending extravaganza just an ego trip of the current Film Commissioner? In all probability, it is a bit of both.

The Film Commissioner’s responsibility falls under the remit of the Ministry for Tourism, Clayton Bartolo. It is interesting to note that the idea that the job of attracting films to be shot in Malta is a ‘touristic’ activity was first adopted by a PN administration. Today it does not make any sense, but old habits die hard.

It was Minister Bartolo who gave the go-ahead to the current Film Commissioner to spend millions on the Mediterrane Film Festival that actually promoted foreign productions and included a lavish dinner party (plus trip to Malta and hotel stay for foreign guests) paid for by public funds.

The benefits of Malta being used as a film location is not something that Joseph Muscat’s Labour discovered. Rather, the current Labour government tried to make Malta more attractive for such ventures.

Blockbusters such as Gladiator were filmed in Malta before Labour’s current era in power. Obviously, not everything was wrong then. However, Malta’s use as a film location was considered to be unpredictable: just a minor flickering star in our economic universe. It is only now that it is being promoted as a newly discovered bright sun around which so many planets revolve!

In days gone by when films were being shot in Malta, apart from Maltese extras, many tradesmen plied their trade and earned money from it. These included carpenters, metalworkers, modellers, seamstresses, drivers and even some minor actors. Such people are needed when a film is being shot in Malta and whenever there was a demand for their services, they were available... and this system did not depend on - or need - people being attracted by billboards advertising the film ‘industry’!

There is nothing wrong in pursuing the dream of such people being permanently employed full-time in the film ‘industry’ but it seems to me that the current approach seems to be putting the cart before the horse. I reckon that the promise of permanent jobs in film props is premature. But then I might be wrong.

The husband of a relative of mine - now sadly departed - managed to appear as an extra in many films. I cannot see Gladiator without seeing him in the crowd - for me a good opportunity to remember him. He did it as a part-time amateur more than as a means of making a livelihood, although the extra income was certainly appreciated.

It is actually impossible for anyone to work out whether this splurging of public funds is a good investment or not. People who were invited might recall Malta when they are searching for a foreign filming location... or might not recall enough positive aspects on Malta to bother even considering it.

Will the number of substantial films shot in Malta increase enough to justify this ‘investment’?

In other words whether the bait is more expensive than the fish that it will catch is a question that can only be answered in the future.

In my opinion the Film Commissioner is overshooting blindly.

Whatever anyone says, Malta will never become Holywood.

Woolly-mammoth Burgers

Paleo is a Belgian startup that creates synthetic proteins for the artificial-meat business. According to The Economist, Hermes Sanctorum, the company’s CEO, is keen to expand the business into making woolly-mammoth burgers.

Working with the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden, the firm has obtained fragments of DNA from mammoth teeth found in the Siberian permafrost that are up to 1.2 million years old. These fragments were combined with DNA from Asian and African elephants, the mammoth’s nearest living relatives, to reconstruct what the firm hopes is the mammoth version of the gene that encodes myoglobin, a protein that helps give meat its rich taste and vibrant red colour. Myoglobin is a protein that is found in muscles such as those attached to bones and tendons, as well as heart muscles amongst others. Its main function is to supply oxygen to the cells in these muscles.

That gene was inserted into the DNA of yeast, which duly began turning out mammoth myoglobin. The protein was mixed with binders such as potato starch, oil, salt and other flavours so that it resembled the taste and texture of a burger.

Paleo’s patent claims the myoglobin causes a range of chemical reactions between other ingredients in the burger, producing flavours that are obtainable in no other way. Mr Sanctorum, for his part, says mammoth burgers taste “more intense” than beef. The firm hints its mammoth meat will soon be publicly available.

Paleo is not the only company exploring mammoth meat. Vow, an Australian company, says it has made a volleyball-sized lump of the stuff by injecting engineered mammoth myoglobin into lab-grown stem cells derived from sheep.

Man’s messing about with nature seems to be an eternal pursuit.