Pedro Almodovar's next film as director, Bad Education (La Mala Educacion), has locked in its production financing structure two months before shooting is due to start in Spain, with Pathe taking a large swathe of European rights and Focus International handling sales in all other territories. The budget is estimated at $8m.

At the same time, Focus has also been engaged by El Deseo - the Spanish production company that Pedro Almodovar spearheads with his brother Agustin - to handle international sales on Chill Out (Descongelate), a bittersweet comedy to be directed by co-writers Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso. Both deals were confirmed today in Berlin by the respective company principals.

Bad Education, for which Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal (Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Crime Of Father Amaro) has been in discussions to take one of the lead roles alongside a still-uncast Spanish actor, follows the lives of two boys who contend with sexual and psychological torment during their formative years in a rural Catholic boarding school during the 1960s. These childhood friends then reunite in Madrid during the artistically explosive 1980s.

The universally acclaimed Spanish director recently described Bad Education as being "profoundly anticlerical," drawing, albeit indirectly, on his own experiences growing up under religious indoctrination and hypocrisy.

"As in all of Pedro's films there are things that he has lived or felt or witnessed, but this is not an autobiographical film," explained his producer Agustin Almodovar yesterday. Although a pure drama, Bad Education will include typically Almodovarian touches of comedy.

The film will shoot for 12-14 weeks from the end of April. During the production process, El Deseo is considering for the first time bringing in an outside writer to tinker with another Pedro Almodovar script ' a comedy called Women And Airports (Mujeres Y Aeropuertos) ' so that this likely follow-up film could be ready to shoot when Bad Education is completed. That project is characterised by Agustin as a "a return to the style of Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown."

Almodovar has a third project in the works: Tarantula, based on an obscure French novel, and in which Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz have both expressed their interest.

Bad Education will be slightly costlier than Almodovar's current critical sensation, Talk To Her, which was budgeted at around Euros 6.5m. The increase is necessary "because we have three eras and will have to reconstruct settings," said Agustin Almodovar.

As with Talk To Her, Pathe pre-bought distribution rights to Bad Education in France, Benelux and the UK, but this time added Swiss rights into the acquisitions mix. As yet, there is no US distribution deal in place, although Almodovar's last two films have been released stateside through Sony Pictures Classics, picking up both after principal photography had wrapped.

Chill Out, budgeted at around Euros 3m and set up to be distributed in Spain through Warner Sogefilms, is about a struggling family of artists in Madrid's vibrant immigrant neighbourhood Lavapies. It is the first film to come through El Deseo's 50/50 co-production agreement with MediaPro unveiled at the San Sebastian Film Festival last September. It stars Candela Pena, Loles Leon and Pepon Nieto.

Focus co-president David Linde, who has been fielding numerous offers here for another El Deseo production ' the Berlin competition title My Life Without Me - noted yesterday that the marketplace has shown signs of remaining buoyant for independent titles provided they are responsibly budgeted.

"The movies that are attracting buyer attention here are those that have come from smart filmmakers and strong producers like El Deseo who know how to get them made at appropriate budgets," said Linde, who has already clinched a German distribution deal on My Life Without Me with Tobis. "This way you get attractive art-house films being made and sold at attractive prices."

Almodovar, too, suggested that keeping budgets within reason has helped ensure El Deseo's independence and ability to maintain full control of both its own projects and those one or two outside films it aims to make per year with new talents or artistically risky material.

Although El Deseo has no formal ties with Focus, Almodovar says the two have maintained their business ties over several films now because as a sales company, Focus has "affinities for the kind of films we make ' films which can be both auteur and also enter the mainstream." He added: "We only do deals on a film-by-film basis, meaning each time we renew a deal it is significant because it reflects an effort on both parts."

"We want to have the liberty to approach our projects with full freedom, independently of the market." This, Almodovar says, has helped foster the "natural artistic evolution" of Pedro's filmmaking.