The 12th annual Rencontres Cinematographiques de Beaune, a congress of the association of writers, directors and producers (ARP) that takes place in Burgundy's famous wine town, ended Sunday under sunny skies and without much fanfare - though whispering was heard all around.

Indeed, the normally fiery three-day round table event is usually marked by heated rows between ARP's members and invited guests all in the name of protecting France's beloved cultural exception.

With fewer Americans or top French execs in attendance this year the debates were muted. However, the newest enemy of ARP might now be the European Commission which is currently preparing a Euorpean Convention which would spell out the constitutional rights of the member countries and which is expected in 2004.

ARP's members called for a decree to be drafted which would guarantee the cultural exception and the preservation of cultural diversity but it seems unlikely that such a doctrine will see the light of day in what many at the European level consider a document that will be more focused on fundamental rights having to do with government and economics.

ARP issued a statement on the final day of the conference saying it was upset by what will be an uphill battle to define such rights in the Convention. All of this came after Saturday's debate which focused on the topic and the resounding sentiment was that instead of trying to protect a rather abstract idea - the French should just start making better movies.

Other discussions ranged from new methods for financing French film and how to combat standardisation in content. As is generally the case in Beaune, no serious decisions were taken, instead dialogues were opened and at least one announcement was made. France's Ile de France region (with Paris at its centre) said that its budget for aiding productions which agree to spend 50% of their shoot in the region or do at least 50% of posting there would be bumped up to Euros 10m for the coming year. This is especially good news as contrary to many other forms of state aid, the money is also available to foreigners.

A motion was also raised that France's cinema industry could be helped if distributors would reduce the number of screens a film is released on, thus giving a better chance for survival to smaller films. Many in the auditorium considered this a viable alternative but Jean Labe, head of France's exhibition watchdog, was very vocal saying that instead distributors should start releasing films in the drought-like summer months when pictures are scarce, thus avoiding the Fall deluge.

American producer Gil Cates then responded sarcastically, "Do you mean that these films might have worked better if they were released at a different time' It doesn't work that way in the States." The comment only served to point out how out of touch the Americans present seemed to be, since this issue has been an ongoing battle for several years between local exhibitors and distributors.