The fall of Troy? Local film servicing industry concerned at perceived change in policy direction
Following an extraordinarily successful 2011 - in which work on one film or television production or another was carried out practically on a daily basis throughout the year - there are as yet no fully confirmed new productions scheduled to start shooting in 2012.
More ominously still in the eyes of the local industry, the Malta Film Commission website seems to be undergoing a subtle transformation, including the apparent removal of the 'Classified' section: which until recently featured a list of local production units and servicing companies, previously accessible online to all foreign producers interested in enlisting local professionals.
Some of these developments seem consistent with what appears to be an overall change in policy direction at higher levels. Presenting Budget 2012, Finance Tonio Fenech (under whose portfolio the film industry falls) outlined a number of initiatives aimed at establishing and promoting a local film industry: among which, the continuation of a programme of EU-funded basic courses in screen-writing, documentary-making and various other aspect of film and television productions, which commenced this year.
But apart from announcing that next year's European Film Awards will be hosted in Malta - a development which he claimed would bolster Malta's image as a film location for foreign productions, but which actually boils down to a decision taken in 2010 - there was no indication of any discernible strategy to continue attracting high-level productions to shoot in Malta.
While welcoming initiatives to bolster a local film-making industry, local professionals have stressed that progress in this area need not come about at the expense of another, arguably more lucrative side to the business: the film servicing industry, which aims to provide logistical support to foreign productions shot in Malta.
In a recent article that was given prominence on international film website The Location Guide (www.thelocationguide.com), former Film Commissioner Malcolm Scerri Ferrante diplomatically spelt out several of the local stakeholders' main concerns.
"Sadly, like many things in life, the past is no guarantee of the future but this cannot be any truer where Malta's film servicing industry is concerned, unless the island makes big strides to keep up with the smart competition," he warned.
Scerri Ferrante added that: "The film courses introduced this year by the local EU office Media and the Malta Film Commission are great initiatives and should be repeated with some variety on an annual basis. However, they are mainly beneficial for the creation of an 'indigenous' industry. The servicing industry caters for foreign productions and accounts for millions of euros injected into the local economy. It is an industry that the private sector and the government is trying to sustain. Yet, it is in dire need of other levels of qualified personnel, that these courses unfortunately do not cater for."
Furthermore, he pointed out that competition from other countries is intensifying on an annual basis.
Nonetheless, when contacted by MaltaToday, current Film Commissioner Peter Busuttil was generally upbeat about the prospects for the coming year.
"We do not as yet have a clear indication which productions will actually shoot next year," he admitted, "though we do have the following productions which are in the pipeline for 2012: 1. A major American TV series to be shot entirely in Malta; 2. A feature film where Malta features as Cuba; 3. A number of TV documentaries which have yet to finalise their shooting schedules; 4. A historical drama for Italian television."
Busuttil added that the Commission expects these to be given the green light, but pointed out that they are dependent on a number of factors, mainly financial ones.
"On a daily basis the Commission deals with nearly one query per day: financing, locations, availability, and so on," he said. "The filming projects which are attracted to Malta vary from those wanting to make documentaries about the acoustics of our historical sites, to World War 2 dramas, to football inspired stories, to TV series."
But so far, the only established (and therefore certain) scheduled productions actually mentioned by name involve spill-over from 2011:
"Currently a Russian feature - Man from Iscariot - has just terminated filming and the TV series Sinbad is currently filming up to the first months of 2012."
Moreover, Busuttil brushed aside concerns about the removal of the classified list, saying only that it "is currently being updated".
The list of companies was last accessible on the Malta Film Commission website in August.