November 24, 2004 - The Times of Malta
Missing the train..... or not?
by Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante
This year I will look out for Budget Day like no other year before. I will anxiously look out for those words in the finance minister’s speech that talk about the long-awaited financial incentives for the film industry. I am given to understand that there ‘might’ be some good news.
Over the past years I have sat on boards, committees and seminar panels explaining amongst other matters the importance of financial incentives. This subject has been equally emphasized upon by foreign reputable institutions as well as local entities like the government’s own Film Commission. I have no doubt that the middle-management, so to speak, of this government understands the needs of the film industry. However I have reason to doubt what the higher levels of government think about this matter.
Not too long ago I had one high-level government meeting together with one of the world’s most influential producers to discuss incentives for a particular project intended for Malta. We were not offered any real incentives but, to add insult to injury, we were offered a gimmick incentive which amounted to nothing more that a rebate of a mere $10,000. Boy, what an incentive for a production planning an expenditure in Malta of $5 million! And the suggested bureaucracy attached to this $10,000 was unbelievable. False hopes had followed in other areas which make people like me feel almost ashamed of being Maltese and makes me question why my country is being represented in such a foolish and arrogant manner.
However time has passed, portfolios have changed and people have come and gone. Also I have no doubt that our prime minister is striving hard to move ahead as efficiently and transparently as possible to the best of his abilities.
There are many countries around us, which despite having a filming activity far better than ours, they have nevertheless not failed to recognize the need of offering financial incentives to visiting productions. For example Hungary offers no less than a 20% rebate on total expenditure. Serbia and Montenegro are also planning to jump onto the bandwagon before its too late. The UK, even with its own busy film industry, still feels the need to offer incentives ranging between 13 and 20%. Many countries also offer other serious incentives for local producers and investors, aiming to foster their indigenous film industry (which Malta does not have).
I am optimistic in believing that this government will be wise in recognizing the impact by the film servicing industry on Malta’s economy, not to talk about the cultural and economic importance of an indigenous film industry which also helps promote the nation’s identity abroad. But I urge the ministers responsible to also introduce incentives that are intelligent and not insulting gimmicks which are insignificant when taken account for and which bear absolutely no weight on the realization of the project concerned.
With minimal pessimism I shall say that, considering the current international film climate, Malta’s film servicing industry stands to become even more unpredictable and volatile if serious incentives are not introduced this time around.