This had a direct impact on filmmaking activity on the island, which relies heavily on foreign film servicing, with production stalled and postponed. However, come summer, the low numbers of virus cases and warmer weather heralded a loosening of measures, and by the end of the year production in Malta was seeing a healthy return.
Jurassic World: Dominion shot second unit in Malta in the second half of 2020
September 2020 saw the second-unit filming of Jurassic World 3: Dominion take place on the Maltese islands. Latina Pictures provided the production services for the multi-million-dollar blockbuster, which had originally been slated to film earlier on in the year, but postponed the shooting due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Re-starting the production in summer, the film directed by Colin Trevorrow, scaled down the shoot on the island to the second unit only, following a rise in COVID-19 cases on the island, with four crew members also testing positive.
The 2 m EUR British production The Seed, produced by Ingenious Group, also shot in the same period with 1 m EUR spent on the island. The film starred Chelsea Edge, Lucy Martin and Sophie Vavasseur, and tells the story of three women, all social media influencers, heading out on a girls’ weekend away in a remote luxury villa to film a meteor shower for their social media channels. However, they meet horror, death and an alien invasion on their trip.
The production company Pellikola serviced three productions in 2020. James Payne’s football drama-thriller The Window, inspired by the English Premier League and telling the story of the dark manoeuvrings of an elite English football club, shot on the island in October. Also in October, the company shot and produced the Maltese film Island of Oblivion by writer/director Jamie Vella. The film based on Book Five of Homer’s Odyssey featured local actors Alberto Brosio as Odysseus, Ariadna Cabrol Espinal as Calypso and Paul Portelli as Captain Eurylochus, and shot in Ghajn Tuffieha, Manikata, Gharghur, Mizieb, Mellieha, as well as at the Malta Film Studios. It is set for release in 2021.
Island of Oblivion was serviced by Pellikola in 2020; image courtesy of Pellikola
In November, Pellikola also serviced the upcoming action-adventure show Love on the Rock aka Romancing the Cure, which shot over a three-week period in a variety of locations including Marsaxlokk, Buggiba, Valletta, Fort St. Elmo, Mellieha and Attard. The film, which was produced by Pure Flix and RevengeMovies LLC, tells the story of a former detective who retires to Malta to run boat tours but accidentally discovers a world-saving panacea to evil. Local crew made up approximately 75 percent of the workforce.
In October 2020, James Nunn’s British thriller Jetski shot on the island, serviced by local production company Small Island Films. The story centres on a group of young adults who, while partying in Mexico, steal two jet skis but end up in a head-on collision, leaving them stranded two miles from land, with predators circling the choppy waters. Written by Nick Saltrese (A Prayer Before Dawn) and produced by Ingenious Media, LipSync, Richmond Pictures, SquareOne Entertainment and Saban Films, the film spent 2 m EUR of its 5 m EUR budget in Malta. Approximately 100 local crew members and 120 Maltese extras were employed on the production, which is set to be released in November 2021.
Stargate Studios Malta, a Maltese company offering visual effects and production services to the local and international film and television industries, had a busy year, working on eight different productions, which included Alex Camilleri’s Luzzu, about a Maltese fisherman who, facing dwindling harvests and a ruthless marketplace, enters the world of black market fishing to survive; HBO’s Run created by Vicky Jones; and Lasciami Andare directed by Stefano Mordini. The latter tells the story of Marco and Anita, who discover they are expecting a child, opening up issues with past relationships.
Stargate Studios Malta also became a Trusted Partner Network accredited studio, thus becoming part of a new, global, industry-wide film and television content protection initiative, which helps companies prevent leaks, breaches, and hacks of their client’s data prior to their intended release.
On the local production front, Shadeena’s Is-Sriep Reġgħu Saru Velenużi directed by Martin Bonnici filmed in August 2020. Based on the novel by Alex Vella Gera, the political thriller is set in 1984 and 2012, and tells of a fictionalised plot to assassinate former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff. The film was financed by the National Book Council through its feature film adaptation fund.
COVID-19 GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
The COVID-19 pandemic brought new necessities to the fore within the Maltese film industry. The Malta Producers’ Association (MPA) took the lead in successfully advocating for a Government wage supplement to be given to the workforce in Malta’s film & TV sectors, which allowed for the retention of the island’s valuable crews.
Moreover, the Association also presented a position paper to the authorities, outlining strategies to assist in ensuring the health and vitality of the sector, despite the pandemic. The proposal entitled Measures for the Restoration of Confidence and COVID-19 Realities in the Film/TV Industry advocated for a shift in strategy to encourage more local filmmaking and an increase in transparency and accountability within the film structures themselves.
Mid-year, the Government issued protocols to safely kick-start the film industry. These included the designation of a person responsible for safety at work, whom the cast and crew members may contact, proper H&S briefings and risk assessments, quarantine for crew members flying in to shoot, as well as regular temperature checks at the place of work.
As a result, production companies instituted this set of regulations while in production, with some even going beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety of their cast and crew. Latina Pictures, for instance, intensified mitigation measures, requiring 400 cast, crew and extras to get tested three times a week. Quarantine for those travelling to the island was also observed and the production implemented Trackworx, a digital tracking system monitoring the interactions between people, in order to facilitate contact tracing.
Small Island Films and Pellikola also instituted regular PCR and rapid tests to keep the potential for any outbreaks under control. In the meantime, Stargate Studios Malta were able to shift the operations of their Visual Effects department to remote working.
The distribution and screening of films in Malta took a hard knock in 2020, like elsewhere in the world. Cinemas were closed for the first half of the year, reopening in June. Eden Cinemas, Malta’s largest cinema complex, experienced a drop of 80 percent in sales in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to its Chief Executive Director Simon De Cesare.
On reopening in June, the cinema had to institute extensive COVID-19 mitigation measures in order to be compliant with the health directorate recommendations, which constrained the theatres to 20-25 percent of maximum occupancy and the increased cleaning and sanitisation at a huge cost.
Moreover, the complex reopened only 50 percent of their theatres in June 2020, keeping one full block shut, except for two weeks over the Christmas period. Overall, sales ended up at around 20 percent of 2019 numbers. However, with the extra costs, the operating contribution ended up at some eight percent of 2019 results, the challenges also being precipitated by a lack of content, with studios opting to delay releasing their slates or moving online.
However, there was some positive news. Carmen by Valerie Buhagiar, produced by Falkun Films and Malta’s Aiken Heart Films, was selected by Telefilm Canada as one of the 12 films for its First Look programme, giving the production the opportunity to pitch to North American sales companies in New York and LA.
Moreover, while the 16th edition of Kinemastik’s Short Film Festival (KISFF) could not go ahead with the usual format, the NGO behind the event still succeeded in presenting an original showcase of international short films by splitting the event up into more manageable elements, thus complying with COVID-19 restrictions. The first element was its Neck of the Woods section, an out of competition selection, which took place in July 2020 as a public installation in the Sa’ Maison Kiosk in Pietà, featuring seven individual screens installed on each of its windows. Later, on the first weekend of October, the festival launched its competitive section in collaboration with in-door cinemas and theatres across the island.
The Malta Film Commission also organised outdoor film screenings in June 2020, spread out over three nights, together with the Valletta Cultural Agency, under the initiative called CinemaCity.
The Malta Film Foundation (MFF), organised the Malta Youth Film Festival, online to showcase films from Malta’s younger generations. There were 15 entries to the competition, with the winner announced at an online ceremony on 3 June 2020: Jeremy Vella won Best Picture with his film Orrajt and had the chance to participate in the workshop organised by NUFF festival in Norway. Moreover, the foundation also went ahead with the Malta Film Weekend online. This consisted of various courses and talks highlighting different aspects of the industry, such as screenwriting and funding.
Finally, the Golden Knight Malta International Short Film Festival, organised by Malta Cine-Circle, showcased original work by non-professionals and film school students from across the globe, aiming to encourage further enthusiasm and development in the sector. The winners included Angel Falls by Tom Lincoln (UK); Consolation by Lina Asadullina (Russia); The Important Day by Olesia Aleinikova (Russia); The Abandoned Block by James Bourne (Canada) and Überfrog by Tuomas Kurtakko (Finland).
The Malta Film Commission launched its new funding programme Screen Malta, which replaced the Malta Film Fund in 2020. The fund administers a total annual budget of 600,000 EUR for the development, production and distribution of Maltese audiovisual works, with one call issued in 2020.
Through this fund, filmmakers could apply for funding for scriptwriting (up to a maximum of 30,000 EUR), development (up to a maximum of 50,000 EUR) and production (between 5,000 and 200,000 EUR). The Commission also designed a new scheme for low-budget filmmakers, being referred to as the Screen Malta New Scheme (Low Budget), under which producers could apply for up to a maximum of 50,000 EUR, as an all-in-amount.
The fund also provides distribution support for festival fees (up to a maximum of 500 EUR for short films and creative documentaries, or 1,000 EUR for feature films), marketing and promotion (up to a maximum of 20,000 EUR), and international festival attendance (up to a maximum of 5,000 EUR).
Kultura TV, the Art Council Malta’s television development and production grant, aiming to incentivise the development of cultural and creative content on private broadcasting stations, issued a call closing on 11 May 2020. It resulted in awarding eight beneficiaries with a cumulative total of more than 200,000 EUR for a variety of documentaries and info-entertainment shows.
In the meantime, the MPA’s executive committee focused in 2020 on establishing a line of dialogue and networking with other creative sector individuals and leaders as well as with the International Federation of Film Producers Associations. It also consulted with the international Motion Pictures Association on EU level copyright law feedback, published an assessment and feedback document on Malta’s main financing strand for local production Screen Malta, as well as identified and tackled several discriminatory practices within government structures, opening inquiries and investigations where applicable.
Malta’s broadcasting sector is dominated by three main stations: the public broadcaster with its stations TVM and TVM2; and two channels, ONE television and NET TV, owned by Malta’s main political parties, as well as a myriad of smaller, private stations. Three of the latter possess a General Interest Objectives licence (Smash TV, f Living, Xejk), with the remaining being teleshopping channels.
The island also broadcasts numerous foreign stations (principally Italian), as well as cable television, through private telecommunications suppliers. The national regulators are the Malta Broadcasting Authority for content and the Malta Communications Authority for matters related to transmission and the service providers.
The latest report issued by the Broadcasting Authority for 2020, with data collected in July of that year, when the mitigation measures had started to be lifted, showed a marked decrease [>20.8 per cent at 52.4 per cent] in the amount of television audiences compared to the previous assessment period – for the period of March 2020 – although there was only a 2.2 per cent decrease over July 2019.
Audience Reach by Station, July 2020 – courtesy of the Broadcasting Authority (Malta)
Overall, 67.75 per cent of all viewers followed local stations, with 34.97 percent watching foreign content. Of the local stations, the top two stations were TVM and ONE, and these had audiences from all the demographic groups. Foreign stations were most popular with those within the 12-20 age bracket [49.75 per cent] and least with those over 71+ years of age [19.56 per cent].
Moreover, ONE attracted the largest average amount of viewers [0.888 per cent], followed by TVM [0.753 per cent], and Net TV [0.182 per cent] during the week, with ONE also having the highest average amongst all local stations on five weekdays – Saturdays [1.289 percent, which was also the highest average amongst all local stations] followed by Tuesdays [0.941 percent], Fridays [0.928 percent], Sundays [0.926 percent], and Mondays [0.922 percent].
TVM had the highest average amongst all local stations on two weekdays – Wednesdays [0.997 percent] and Thursdays [0.810 percent] – while its second highest was that of Tuesdays, with 0.834 percent, which was below that of ONE’s on that day [0.941 percent]. The highest average attained by Net TV was on Thursdays with 0.303 percent.
The viewing of foreign stations exceeded the viewing of any local station for all the weekdays, with its highest being on Tuesdays at 2.041 percent.
The beginning of 2020, prior to the economic slowdown precipitated by the COVID-19, saw the TV series Cargo directed by Matti Kinnunen, and produced by Kirsi Hatara and Rea Dominci, under the production company FremantleMedia Finland Oy, shoot in Malta. The island features in the first three episodes of the eight-episode drama series, doubling as Eritrea, Libya and Italy. The series, which tells a story about international human smuggling and a group of people who experience it first-hand, was serviced in Malta by Twenty13 Productions.
Following the lifting of the containment measures, Halo Pictures Ltd, the production company headed by former film commissioner Engelbert Grech, provided services for Stolen Saint over two months, in July and August 2020, for which it had also received funds via the Arts Council Malta’s Kultura TV fund in 2018. The TV production directed by Justin Farrugia tells the story of a strong-minded priest who would not give up his Europe-wide search for a missing national treasure.
MALTA FILM COMMISSION
Malta Film Studios
Kalkara, KKR 9062 Malta
+356 2180 9135
ARTS COUNCIL MALTA
TG Complex Suite 1, Level 1
Mriehel BKR 3000
Telephone (General): + 356 2334 7201/02
Report by Rebecca Anastasi
Sources: National Statistics Office, Shadeena Ltd, Broadcasting Authority, Malta Film Commission, Malta Producer’s Association, Stargate Studios, Arts Council Malta, Film Grain Foundation, Kinemastik Film Festival, University of Malta’s MA Film Studies, Facebook page, Latina Pictures, Falkun Films, Small Island Films, Twenty13 Productions, Halo Pictures Ltd, Malta Youth Film Festival, Pellikola Ltd, Agenzija Zaghzag