I don't understand. Isn't this guy Russel Crowe's PR agent in Malta? Why is he talking about securing my job?

No. 206 - They Can Take Our Freedom, But They'll Never Take Away Our Rebates

Johann Grech
Johann Grech

What are we skinning? Film Commissioner Johann Grech's public reaction to criticism levelled his way when it emerged that the government is dishing out sizeable cash rebates to Hollywood productions like Gladiator 2.

Why are we skinning it? Because it's indicative of the way we tend to process public and political dissent on the island.

How do you mean? Instead of addressing any criticism and/or public misunderstanding through a transparent breakdown of the facts, we tend to turn to partisan and populist mud-slinging as a way of scoring points for our 'side' by tapping into the superficial emotional kick this gives us.

What actually happened, though? So a lot of fuss was made in the media with regards to the amounts spent in cash rebates by the government to help attract foreign productions to Malta. This was further weaponised by the Opposition, who even went so far as to suggest that an investigation should be launched into the cash rebate scheme to identify any irregularities.

Did the Film Commission respond by publishing the necessary evidence that would definitively prove otherwise? Nope.

Did they attempt to alleviate the anxiety the general population may feel about such blockbuster numbers, by showing how such productions truly provide long-term added value to Malta? Nope. (Though there's plenty of selfies with Johann Grech and Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo going around, if that helps.)

Did they finally address the costs of both the Malta Film Awards and the Mediterranae Film Festival? Nope. (Though Bartolo promised a report of some kind will be published in September).

Did they reassure Maltese filmmakers that a more equitable distribution of funds will be made available, ensuring that they do not feel like second-class citizens in their own industry? Nope.

Well, what did they do then? The Film Commissioner, in his wisdom, issued a piece-to-camera monologue where he said that the criticisms of the cash rebate scheme amount to nothing more but an 'attack to Malta', and that whoever even dares to suggest they should in any way be scrutinised is operating on an agenda to rob honest, hard-working Maltese and Gozitan people of their jobs in the film servicing industry.

How very totalitarian chic. Say what you will about our Film Commissioner, but he's certainly taken to at least one audio-visual genre with flair and energy.

Didn't the Tourism Ministry make roughly the same points earlier? It did, but I suppose Grech felt he needed to add a more explicit visual adjunct to the party line on this.

Do you really think it will sway people's opinions? It may mobilise some of the converted, but I don't see how it will contribute to the conversation in any meaningful way. Even the most sober and moderate of the critics will want concrete answers, not propaganda lines.

In fact, it's funny that Grech should mention 'unity' on this front... Exactly. Such a discourse aims to divide us between 'us' and 'them. Grech is essentially saying "you're either with us or against us".

And who's the other side, really? If Grech means the PN, that's a non-starter.

Why do you say that? Most film industry professionals operating in good faith have no interest in partisan squabbling -- they just want a better industry and better access to resources. Also, the PN attacking the rebates on principle is just dumb.

Ah, the PN. Learning the wrong lessons from each (possible) scandal. Yep. The rebates aren't the issue. The perception of overspending in other areas, and the lack of support to local filmmakers, is what really gets our collective goat.

As if their wins with the hospitals deal taught them nothing. That's your perfect example right here. In that case there was concrete evidence brought to bear with determination. This is just populist ping-pong on both sides.

Do say: "The Film Commission should not be penalised a priori for having a cash rebate scheme in place, and any criticism in that regard should be substantiated by concrete evidence. However, responding to complaints through a video broadcast propped up by little more than buzzwords and sprinkled with sinister, populist statements is no way of turning the narrative around."

Don't say: "I don't understand. Isn't this guy Russel Crowe's PR agent in Malta? Why is he talking about securing my job?"