The American Film Market (AFM) has never been especially fertile territory for auteur cinema. This has always been a market for mainstream product and straight-to-video fodder, not arthouse titles. Nonetheless, one trait was very noticeable among independent sales agents in Santa Monica earlier this month.

Companies which used to handle films from revered European directors were turning more and more to cast-driven English language and genre fare.

'Volume and prices have fallen for arthouse films,' suggests Fabien Westerhoff, international sales executive at Paris-based sales outfit Onoma.

In the past, Onoma has handled such upscale titles as Manoel de Oliveira's Belle Toujours (the sequel to Luis Bunuel's Belle De Jour) and Vimukthi Jayasundara's Cannes Camera d'Or winner The Forsaken Land. But at AFM, it was pushing a new $15m gangster picture Kalach, starring Gerard Depardieu. Meanwhile, other French companies associated with auteur fare were doing their briskest business with sci-fi films.

For instance, Bac Films closed a US deal with its new sci-fi epic Eden Log while Gaumont piqued buyers' curiosity with Splice, a $26m horror film starring Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley.

Auteur films, Westerhoff believes, can still work in the market, but they need to be budgeted at a realistic level and to have directors with instantly recognisable names.

As if to underline Westerhoff's point, another French sales company, Rezo, managed to attract buyers for two of its titles by legendary arthouse figures Eric Rohmer (The Romance Of Astrea And Celadon) and de Oliveira (Christopher Columbus - The Enigma).

The deaths this year of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni within days of each other led many to proclaim the passing of auteur cinema.

They have a point. The way films are financed has changed since the heyday of these two masters. Bergman was able to make more than 50 films in his career. Rainer Werner Fassbinder used to work at a ferocious rate. In today's era of elaborate co-productions, multi-party financing and pre-sales, it is hard to see contemporary directors being anywhere near as prolific.

There were poignant scenes in 1997, when the Cannes film festival celebrated its 50th anniversary by inviting previous Palme d'Or winners. As elderly film-makers tottered up the red carpet, you had the sense they were part of a tradition that would fade with them. Bergman was awarded the Palme Des Palmes but did not turn up in person.

The closing film by Denys Arcand in Cannes this year had an apt title - The Age Of Ignorance (it has since been retitled Days Of Darkness).

Today, arguably, few cinema-goers know or care about film-makers in the way audiences once did about their favourite auteurs. In the UK, at least, many of the repertory cinemas which used to showcase auteur work have long since closed.

However, before bemoaning the death of auteur film-making too quickly, it is worth noting that in the DVD and VoD era, an auteur's work is arguably more accessible than it was in Bergman and Antonioni's heyday. There are still young directors with strong personal visions and independent distributors willing to show their work.

One figure well-placed to comment on the health of auteur cinema is Eric Rohmer. As a Cahiers Du Cinema critic, he was part of the movement that helped theorise auteur cinema. As a film-maker, even in his late 80s, he remains prolific.

'I certainly hope Bergman and Antonioni's passing will not spell the end of the auteur,' says Rohmer. 'I don't think it will, but having said that, the situation is quite serious. Before, it was easier to make such (auteur) films but now it has become a lot harder.

'Now in France, we're more like other countries. You have these US blockbusters which are very popular and so the French are starting to make these huge productions aimed at very broad audiences. In France before, you could make films for an educated viewing public, but those films were also seen by the wider public.'