News | Sunday, 09 August 2009
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City Lights cinema operator baffled at police turn-off

67-year-old Alex Baldacchino, who this week was charged with screening pornographic films at City Lights Cinema in Valletta, told MaltaToday he cannot explain how the police has only acted against him now, decades since the well-known cinema has been operating.
“Adult content has become common in this day and age,” Baldacchino said. “You will find DVDs for sale at the flea market, or for free on internet. So I took it for granted that, once we’re living in 2009, there’s nothing wrong with pornography.”
Baldacchino said he was baffled at the police’s intervention: “it’s not like I have a theatre which forces people to go in.”
He said he never advertised the cinema, and that there was never any outside signage indicating that there was a porn cinema inside. “Everybody knows that the cinema was not frequented by children. It was not even a place for youths. The few people that kept coming recently were old men.”
Baldacchino suggests that the police’s action could have been somewhat tied with the public upheaval caused by the censorship of the play Stitching, whose producers Unifaun took legal action against the censorship board after banning it for the stage.
“My understanding of this is that the police intervened within the context of an issue with the censorship of a particular play,” he said. “The law is a different story. I am now waiting for the court judgment.”
Film critic Lino Cassar, who had also served as chairman of the censorship board in the past, was surprised to hear about the closure of the cinema.
“It had been open for at least 25 years. I cannot make heads or tails as to why the police had to intervene now when for so many years, the cinema was located just round the corner from the police station,” he said.
“When I was at the censorship board, there were a few occasions when I asked the police to take action against the cinema, but Baldacchino could never be controlled. The way it works is very complex.”
Cassar explained that Baldacchino would purchase reels from Sicily that would otherwise be disposed of, and then screen them at the City Lights without advertising them or showing the name of the film.
“Whoever liked the genre knew that they could watch porn films at the City Lights, this was no secret,” he said. “And viewers would not care much about the name of the film. They just went there to watch some porn. I think for that for many years, Baldacchino saw how to best bend the law – so he never advertised the videos, never affixed any posters and at times, did some editing too.”
Asked what he thought could be the reasoning behind the police intervention now, after so many years, Cassar said: “You are right in asking this question, but I have no idea how to answer it. The issue with this is that whoever went to watch these films, knew they weren’t going to watch the Ten Commandments. They went there for hard porn. And nobody could accuse Alex Baldacchino of advertising the cinema. I don’t know. This could have come about after the insistence of some individual or other.”
Asked whether he agrees with the closure of the cinema, Cassar burst out in a hearty laugh, followed by a diplomatic answer: “I am amazed at why they closed it now, because authorities have closed an eye for more than 25 years.”


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