Culture Minister José Herrera defended the planned “Cinema City” festival, which will see a number of blockbuster films shown in free open-air screenings, stating that critics were missing the point.
And the point, according to Herrera, was to screen films “that would attract a crowd, so people go to Valletta and visit its shops and restaurants,” in a bid to provide a boost to Valletta businesses which were particularly badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cinema City, which will be held between 25 and 28 June, will feature five blockbuster films, of which three were partly shot in Malta. It is organised by the Valletta Cultural Agency, the successor to Valletta 2018 which has retained Jason Micallef as chairman.
But the plans attracted the ire of the Film Grain Foundation, which had organised the annual Valletta Film Festival until last year. This year’s edition will not be held, with the foundation citing Covid-19 restrictions as well as insufficient public support.
The foundation viewed Cinema City as a form of competition, particularly since it was being organised when the VFF would usually be held.
Festivals no place for commercial films, PN MPs insist
On Wednesday’s sitting, Parliament’s agenda was to discuss the financial estimates of Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, though many MPs used the opportunity to speak about heritage and culture in wider terms.
PN MP Claudette Buttigieg criticised the festival, stating that she could not understand why a festival would focus on commercial films when film festivals generally screen films that would struggle to make it to commercial cinemas.
Similar criticism was made by the party’s culture spokesman, Therese Comodini Cachia.
But while Herrera stressed that the PN MPs’ criticism was made in good faith, he insisted that they had been misled on what was happening behind the scenes. He said that critics appeared to fail to understand the role of the VCA and of Arts Council of Malta.
“Their aim is not to serve as a bank for every private cultural initiative and give them money. If this was the case, we wouldn’t need the Arts Council,” the minister said. According to Herrera, their aim is two-fold: to help organise cultural activities, even on their own – particularly where no profit can be made –whilst supporting private cultural activity.
But in the case of Cinema City, the aim was to help regenerate Valletta after the impact of Covid-19.
Herrera pointed out that millions have been spent to breathe life into Valletta in recent years, turning it “from a silent city like Mdina to the most vibrant place in Malta.”
The festival, he added, sought to help restore this state of affairs, and response was “super excellent,” with demand for tickets exceeding the number of seats available.
Herrera also reserved criticism for the Film Grain Foundation’s assertion that not enough support had been provided, stating that the foundation had received much more than many of their peers.
He said that the foundation had been provided close to €300,000 through the Arts Council, and that this year, it was offered a further €45,000 which were turned down.
“We cannot give all our funds to just one entity,” he insisted.