China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) is setting up a fund to support young Chinese directors in the making of small to mid-budget films.

During the first year of the fund, 16 filmmakers will each receive $64,300 (RMB500,000) to help finance a low-budget project, in addition to assistance in gaining script approval and distribution of the finished film.

The first beneficiaries of the fund include filmmakers such as Jia Zhangke (Still Life) and Wang Xiaoshuai (Shanghai Dreams), who have won plaudits on the international film festival circuit, but who often find it difficult to secure finance and distribution within their own country.

Other directors to receive funding include Lu Chuan, Ning Hao, Xu Jinglei, Zhang Yang, Wulan Nata and Ning Cai.

According to SARFT officials, who announced the scheme at the National Film Work Conference in Beijing, the fund will support filmmakers under 45 years of age, who have gained a certain degree of recognition nationwide or overseas.

The scheme is generally seen by industry players as a reaction to the polarised box office performance of Chinese films. Big-budget international co-productions, such as Zhang Yimou's Curse Of The Golden Flower, rack up substantial box office while award-winning arthouse works find it diffult to stay in cinemas for more than two weeks.

According to Zhang Pimin, deputy director of the Film Bureau under SARFT, the major task for the film authorities in 2007 is to encourage filmmaking in diverse genres and to support the production of small to mid-budget films.

'We are very pleased to hear about the new policy,' said Wang Xiaoshuai in response to the launch of the fund. 'And we hope the government will give us more support in distribution - arranging more cinemas and better time slots for small-to-mid budget films.'

The 16 filmmakers are required to make an application for the fund with any one of their on-going projects which has a shooting permit. Each director is only allowed to apply once with one project during 2007.