A new record in French film production was set last year, with the total number of titles, including French co-productions. reaching 204. That is 33 higher than in 2000, says the French film body CNC, which does not count films in which it has not invested.

A massive Euros 749m (up 10.4%) was invested in 172 wholly-French films, an upward trend that seems to be favouring the big-budget productions - at the increasing expense of medium -budget titles.

The growing investment in high-end French movies (Euros 10m-plus) has been increasing for the last three years, up by 25% in 1998, 37% in 1999 and 43% in 2000 - reaching 49 titles last year - and nine of those passed the Euros 15m mark.

However, the major change last year was in the number of medium-budget films produced (Euros 2m - 5m), which dropped sharply - falling to 49 titles, compared with 62 in 2000 and 70 in 1999.

These medium-budget films previously attracted the largest slice of film investment.

At the same time, the number of smaller titles (with budgets up to Euros 2m) increased significantly to 74 films last year (compared to 43 in 2000, 47 in 1999 and 45 in 1998). Similarly, films with budgets under Euros 1m leapt from 22 in 2000 to 42 last year.

The increase in the latter category can be partly attributed, according to the CNC, to the fact that its funding can now be more easily accessed by 'wild' and first-time productions, which could not benefit before.

But if this sounds like good news, there are growing concerns that the downward trend in the volume of medium-range films will dramatically upset the structure of the French film financing system.

While Canal Plus invested Euros 153m (up 5%) in French film production in 2001, its overall contribution dwindled to 65% of the films produced in France in 2001, compared to 70% in 2000 and 80% in 1999).

Moreover, the pay-TV channel has announced that it would seek a reduction of its film financing obligations (currently 25% of its revenues) when they come up for negotiation in four years.

And while the contribution of Canal Plus' competitor TPS, increased last year (to 22 films and Euros 23.8m) it is not likely to compensate for Canal Plus' decline in investment.

As for the terrestrial channels, they invested Euros 100m (up from Euros 85.5m ), but significantly in only 89 films (95 in 2000), with most of the increase coming from private channels TF1 and M6.

Their involvement in French film production is tied to their revenues, which have been hit by the slump in advertising sales last year.