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Department of Information footage

On July 17, I happened to zap on a PBS programme called Mill-Arkivji tal-PBS (From PBS Archives). To my amazement they were showing a colour film of the royal visit soon after Independence when Xandir Malta were years away from filming and broadcasting in colour. In fact, the footage shown was a documentary filmed at that time by the DOI film unit entitled Malta Welcomes Her Queen. I know because I happened to be one of the production team. At this point I am not interested to find out how this film ended in the PBS archives but at least they should have given the DOI credit.

Since the early 1960s up to mid-1990s, starting with the now well-viewed funeral of Dun Ġorġ Preca, the DOI film unit produced hundreds of newsreels and colour documentaries which today are priceless. I can vouch that there is on film the recent history of Malta under various Administrations, hopefully stored at the DOI. Some of the footage is in black and white but most of the documentaries were filmed in colour when local television was still transmitting in black and white.

I am aware that some footage, or copies of it, has ended up in the archives of various TV stations, mainly precious aerial shots taken when Malta was not so built up. I personally can easily identify such films when I watch the programmes shown. However, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong if this historical footage is aired but one expects some kind of credit.

The DOI had a hardworking and highly professional film unit. All films were sent for processing in a lab in the UK and masters were kept there stored in ideal conditions.

Unfortunately, when I was Director of Information we had to bring all the masters and cut remnants when it became impossible for the UK lab to keep them without asking for exorbitant prices. Soon after, I retired. It is worrying to think of what happened to this historical treasure.

When the DOI marked its 50th anniversary, the late director, Emanuel Abela, had asked a local company, which had restored the feature film Il-Gaġġa with great success, to make samples of how these films can be restored. The result was breathtaking and was shown to the distinguished guests gathered for the anniversary celebrations. The problem with old films is that they tend to flake and lose there colour quality. As far as I know, since then nothing has happened except that air conditioning was installed. No serious effort was made for these films to be restored and properly catalogued.

At this point in time I am of the opinion that since the PBS, under the professional guidance of Charles Abela Mizzi, are doing such a good job with PBS archives, these precious DOI films should be handed over to the national broadcaster following a commitment of restoration and proper cataloguing.

The sooner this move is made the better because people involved in their production are getting on in age and, without them being available for consultation, identification of certain footage could prove difficult.

I also suggest that the more important documentaries like the two royal visits, Malta's Independence, Freedom Day celebrations, Ninu Cremona, Dun Karm, Crafts Of An Island, Heritage In Stone etc. should be immediately restored and transferred on to DVDs for better conservation.

I sincerely hope that my advice would be taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary for Information since this has to be an important political decision.

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