Funds launched by international film festivals are becoming an important financing tool for filmmakers in Asia, with many films at the on-going Pusan fest backed by funds such as Hubert Bals and the World Cinema Fund (WCF).

But producers in Asia’s richer nations are usually excluded from such support, while language barriers keep out some of the more needy applicants.

These were some of the issues to emerge at a panel hosted by the Asian Film Market and EAVE – Ties That Bind at the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) today.

Five funds – including three attached to European fests and one to PIFF – gave detailed presentations on how they work. The odd one out was US-based non-profit org Global Film Initiative, founded by entrepreneur Susan Weeks Coulter, which hands out $10,000 each to 10-20 projects a year.

The Hubert Bals Fund, linked to the Rotterdam film festival, awards a combined $1.4m (Euros1m) in development, production, post-production and distribution support each year, while the Goteborg International Film Festival Fund hands out $554,000 (Euros400,000) for development, post and training initiatives. The Berlin International Film Festival’s WCF has an annual pot of $554,000 (Euros400,000) towards the production of selected projects.

The funds mostly support low-budget films, ranging from Euros200,000 to Euros1m, above which projects tend to be more commercial and don’t require support.

“The projects [we support] should contribute towards the development of their local film industry,” explained Cinemart head Marit van den Elshout, who also works with the Hubert Bals fund. “Many films from Latin America and Africa are co-produced with Europe, so it’s possible that some post-production is done in these countries, but we want to have a clear idea of where you’re spending the money.”

Many films backed by the funds have gone on to win prizes at major film festivals such as this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which was supported by Hubert Bals and WCF.

Some of the funds require that the films they support screen at their festivals, but none would prevent a film from premiering at a festival like Cannes, should they be selected.

However, as most of the funds are aimed at developing countries they don’t support films from richer Asian nations such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and PIFF host country South Korea. Both Hubert Bals and Goteborg stick to countries on the World Bank’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of countries that are eligible for development assistance.

This restriction was one of the reasons behind the launch of PIFF’s Asian Cinema Fund (ACF) in 2007. The fund, which covers all Asian countries, gives $10,000 to each selected feature for script development and $10,000 to each selected documentary. ACF also helps filmmakers to travel to South Korea to work on post-production.

“The reason we do this is because many films in [PIFF’s] New Currents section couldn’t spend much money on post, so it was hard for regular audiences to understand the films,” said ACF director Hong Hyosook. “So this part of the fund doesn’t provide money, but does provide manpower and technical assistance.”

Panellists also discussed how language can be a stumbling block for applicants as most of the funds require that scripts have to be translated into English or French. Conversely, filmmakers with language skills and experience in tapping the funds continue to benefit from them long after they’ve become established and therefore may have less need for support.

This year’s PIFF line-up includes many films backed by the various funds such as Sergei Loznitsa’s My Joy, Aktan Arym Kubat’s The Light Thief and Malaysian director Tan Chui Mui’s Year Without A Summer, which were all backed by Hubert Bals.

Year Without A Summer was also backed by Global Film Initiative. Indeed many projects combine support from more than one fund. “When you get funding from us, it helps you get recognition in some ways,” said GFI director of programmes Santhosh Daniel.

Indian director Murali Nair’s Virgin Goat is probably the prime example of this. The film, which had its international premiere at PIFF, was backed by Hubert Bals, GFI, Goteborg, ACF and one fund that wasn’t on the panel – Fonds Sud Cinema in France.

Meanwhile, Beijing academic Zhang Xianmin announced during the panel that he has launched a fund for indie filmmakers in China with backing from an unnamed private source. The Chinese Independent Film Fund will give $5,000-10,000 each to two features and two docs in its first round of funding which closes on Nov 20.