Some of Europe's leadinggatekeepers to the $257m-plus (Euros 200m) of public money being handed outannually across the continent to support film production are now wonderingwhether too many European films are being made. Is all this state-supported aidis being spread too thinly'

Some 750 theatrical featureswere produced in Europe in 2003. While they enjoyed a healthy 21% share oftheir local box office, those same mostly foreign-language films have a toughtime attracting audiences outside their national borders.

Latest figures show thatEuropean films account for only 7.5% of the continent's total box officeoutside their countries of origin. Strip away the big English-languageblockbusters made by the UK's Working Title, for example, and that figure isbarely above two percentage points. Speaking earlier this week at ScreenInternational's European Film Finance Summit, Paul Trijbits, who runs the NewCinema Fund for the UK's Film Council, said: "That is an incredibly grimpercentage".

"My own personal view isthat there are probably too many films being made in Europe. At the moment theMedia Programme has committed Euros 500m over 7 years for distributors across25 countries. That's a very small sum if spread over 750 films. The more moviesthat get made, the more our distribution share will be in decline."

Trijbits called for anurgent debate on the current levels of funding and how the money is beingdistributed. He also suggested that the Holy Trinity of public funders inEurope - the Media Programme, Eurimages and the national agencies - shouldexplore ways of pooling their resources to create a cohesive package that canbuild a larger share of the European market. He also wanted to open the doorsto an injection of venture capital to foster the growth of European companies." Otherwise we will remain stuck on a pan-European level in never-endingmeasures that support single films." Films that largely fail commercially.

"I agree that the figure of750 is very high: it's twice as high as the US, although, we also many morecountries," said Toine Berbers, managing director of the Netherlands Film Fundand his country's representative on Eurimages. "I think that generally thatthose movies that have a chance to travel around Europe, that help put Europeancinema on the world map, should be made with more money. But there is anotherproblem: less and less people are seeking non-US films and non-nationalmovies."

Hughes Becquart, head ofdistribution support at the Media Programme, agreed that films should besupported by even more money, but questioned the wisdom of directing anyincrease in public funds towards distribution.

"My view is that even if wehad a bigger budget for distribution, it would never be big enough. You cannotforce people to watch films in Europe. Instead, I think we should work withbroadcasters, give them incentives to show European film in their originalform. That might increase the appetite. And the history of cinema should betaught at school."

After twenty years of beingon panels discussing this exact same issue, moderator Peter Aalbeck Jensen,managing director of Zentropa, concluded that Europe's public support systemhad basically failed in its objectives - although he acknowledged his own bigbreak came as a result of a Euros 100,000 investment from a Brussels agency.

With some of his trademarksense of mischief, Jensen asked whether Europe's enlargement might notexacerbate the problem. "Even though we have only learnt how to perform at alocal level, now we are being asked to train Eastern Europe in the nature ofthe market. Why not just give them allthe public money for themselves and at least let them fool around for the nextfive years, just like we have. At least it would be a very Christian attitude."