Financial support for the film industry in Croatia could almost treble from the current amount with the planned creation of a Croatian Centre for Audiovisual Services next year.

Speaking to Screendaily at the European Cinema and Audiovisual Days in Turin, Antonia D. Carnerud, Head of the Drama Department at Croatia's Ministry of Culture, explained that a working group had been analysing funding models throughout Europe - and in particular those in the South East European region - since last March as preparation for a new audiovisual act to come into effect in 2007.

"The working group is arguing for the annual amount available for film activities would almost treble from the present $6.4m (Euros 5m) to $16.6m (Euros 13m), Carnerud said.

"The money would come from the state as well as other sources - cinemas, video distributors, public and private TV, cable, telecoms - i.e. from everybody who profits from the audiovisual market, but all of these player s would be able to benefit from the Centre's fund as well."

"Our Minister of Culture Bozo Biskupic is very keen to give priority to this act coming into effect because he realises that it is now time for us to modernise the support for the audiovisual sector and have the model harmonised with, in particular, European standards," Carnerud continued, pointing out that the intention is for the act to have the first of its three readings in Croatia's national parliament by January 2007.

The creation of an independent film fund would bring Croatia into line with other European countries and can be seen as part of the republic's drive to become a candidate for accession to the European Union in the future.

"The situation at the moment is that all of the decision-making is concentrated at the Ministry of Culture," Carnerud explained. "The idea is that the Croatian Centre for Audiovisual Services would allow one to create different departments for financing films, development, promotion, international affairs as well as film commission.

"Decisions would be made by commissioners and independent councils, while the Ministry would naturally continue to be responsible for general cultural and audiovisual policy.

"But, operationally, this would make things much easier to organise and run. It is really time to have an independent structure using the professional knowledge and developing right strategies for Croatian audiovisual sector to participate on equal terms with the rest of European audiovisual industry."

Carnerud added that a private tax incentive might be something that could come later on. "Our producers are very keen in developing real co-production deals rather than just service production ones with international companies and so they would welcome any scheme which attracted foreign producers to shoot here," she said.

The plans for Croatia's own national film centre comes as the local film industry is "slowly but surely finding its place on the world film scene", according to minister Biskupic.

Recent international festival successes from Croatia have included Vinko Bresan's Witnesses, Arsen Anton Ostojic's Wonderful Night In Split, Ognen Svilicic's Sorry For Kung Fu and Hrvoje Hribar's What Is A Man Without A Moustache' (Hribar's film has been by 160,000 cinema-goers in Croatia, beating The Da Vinci Code)Croatian production companies also served as co-producers on such films as Jasmila Zbanic's Berlinale Golden Bear winner Grbavica, Jan Cvitkovic's festival pleaser Gravehopping and Mark Burson's action film Ultimate Force, and shooting in currently underway in Croatia on US director Richard Shepard's Spring Break In Bosnia, starring Rich ard Gere, Sigourney Weaver and Terrence Howard, about a reporter searching for Radovan Karadzic.