Foreign investment in French production decreased by an alarming 34% in 1999, according to figures released by French cultural body CNC (Centre National de la Cinematographie).

The dip can mostly be attributed to government legislation, introduced last April, which restricts local support to French films that have budgets which are partly spent outside of France. The new legislation has encouraged French producers to concentrate on local funding rather than seeking foreign cash.

According to CNC figures, foreign investment in French production dropped to $42.7m (FFr288.2m) in 35 titles during 1999, a 34% decrease on the $64.8m (FFr436.9m) invested in 46 titles the previous year. However the investment of French companies in foreign productions remained stable - $26.3m (FFr177.2m) in 31 titles compared to $26m (FFr176.2m) in 32 titles the previous year.

Spain, Italy and Belgium remain France's most active partners although the number of titles they were involved in also significantly decreased. Spain co-produced 19 titles, Italy 14 and Belgium 11 in 1999, compared to 21, 19 and 18 in 1998. Switzerland was involved in six French films last year, compared to 10 in 1998. Only Canada and the UK were more active in French productions in 1999; Canada doubling activity from four to eight titles and the UK increasing from five to seven.

German partners were involved in only four French films, compared to five in 1998. French culture minister Catherine Trautman and German prime minister Gerhard Schroeder have both recently called for action on the declining level of production co-operation between Germany and France.

Total investment in French or French co-produced films dipped 9% last year - from $623m (FFr4.2bn) in 1998 to $563m (Ffr3.8bn) in 1999. This was mostly due to the absence of mega-bugdet titles such as Luc Besson's $52m (FFr350m) The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc and the $40m (FFr275m) Asterix And Obelix which were both produced the previous year.

The number of French or French co-produced films remained stable at 181 compared to 180 the previous year.

Furthermore, the figures do not include films majority-backed by French companies but produced outside of France, such as David Lynch's The Straight Story and Jim Jarmush's Ghost Story: The Way Of The Samurai, both produced by Le Studio Canal Plus.

However, the bullish state of the French production sector has failed to translate into box office terms for the past two years, even if a higher number of titles passed the 500,000 admissions mark in 1999 - 23 compared to 11 in 1998. Consequently, the CNC's upcoming agenda includes increased support for French films at the development and distribution stages, which have been identified as the 'weak links' in French films' production and exploitation chain.