The European Commission has approved two film support schemes that address the specific problems faced by film communities in rural or smaller European areas -- specifically in Latvia and Sardinia.

In Latvia, the aim is that a new $68m (Euros 43m), six-year support scheme will help audiences across rural Latvia access European and Latvian films. The funding will cover all of Latvia's film support measures, including film development, production and distribution of Latvian and European films, particularly in rural areas.

Although Latvia had more than 1,000 screens in the early 1990s, there are now only 14 full-time cinemas and a total of only 46 screens across the entire country, serving a population of 2.3m.

As the majority of these screens are in the country's capital, Riga, those living outside Riga have little or no access to European or Latvian cinema.

Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, highlighted the cooperation provided to the Commission in assessing the Latvian scheme by the National Film Centre of Latvia and the Latvian State Aid Control Department.

'This has helped the Commission to appreciate the difficult situation facing Latvian film culture and to approve the scheme quickly,' Commissioner Kroes said.

The Commission has also approved a three-year, $12m (Euros 7.5m)scheme to help support films of regional and cultural interest in Sardinia.

The main objective of the Sardinian scheme is to support the development, production and distribution of films that reflect Sardinian culture.

The funding includes low interest loans to produce feature films, grants for feature film script development and short film production, as well as support for the distribution of feature films and film festivals.

In approving the scheme, Commissioner Kroes recognised the specific problems facing film communities in some smaller European areas.

'Films reflecting the culture of a European region such as Sardinia would most probably not be sufficiently commercial to be made or distributed without public support. So I am pleased that the Commission is able to approve this scheme, which illustrates the extent to which Sardinians take pride in their rich cultural heritage and which will help to preserve Europe's cultural diversity,' said Commissioner Kroes.

The Commission has confirmed that both new schemes comply with EU rules on state aid for film production, as well as support in other areas, under the 2001 Cinema Communication.