Germany's arthouse and repertoire exhibitors have criticised the introduction of increases to the cinema levy in the new Film Funding Law (FFG) which came into effect on 1 January.

The new cinema levy envisages an average 2.6% of a cinema's annual gross turnover of tickets flowing to the German Federal Film Board (FFA), 0.3% more than under the previous FFG, with cinemas whose turnover did not exceed Euros 75,000 being exempt from paying any levy. Cinemas with turnover up to Euros 125,000 pay 1.8%, up to Euros 200,000 2.4% and over Euros 200,000 3%.

Taking the average price of a cinema ticket as being about Euros 6 would thus mean an increased burden of 3 cents which would be shared between the cinemas and distributors.

A statement issued by the board of the exhibitors' trade association AG Kino/Gilde charged that the increase "aggravates the conditions of existence of the German cinemas in total in this economically difficult time."

The AG Kino/Gilde rejected the argument by State Minister for Culture Christina Weiss that cinemas in France had to pay a much higher levy than their German counterparts by pointing out that "French cinemas receive back the film levy they pay in the full amount as grants for renovations. In Germany, though, only half of the cinema levy is paid back to the cinemas as 'reference' support."

At the same time, Weiss suggested that the larger budget now being made available to the FFA for supporting the distribution and marketing of German films would also benefit the exhibitors. "The more successful the German cinema is, the fuller the cinemas are," she said.

Meanwhile, the final version of the FFG which came onto the statute books is unlikely to satisfy a group of independent producers including Egoli Tossell Film (Russian Ark), Schramm Film (The State I Am In), Pandora Film (Mostly Martha) and Peter Rommel Filmproduktion (Halbe Treppe).

Despite intense lobbying from the independent sector, Christina Weiss has retained the linking of new qualitative criteria such as festival invitations, nominations and prizes for the awarding of retroactive "reference" production funding to a film reaching at least 50,000 admissions on its German theatrical release (25,000 for documentaries, children's' and debut films). Meanwhile, those films without any prizes or festival careers will be required to attract a minimum of 150,000 admissions

While welcoming the introduction of the qualitative criteria "in principle", the group of producers criticised the introduction of the higher threshold: "the assumption obviously prevailing in the BKM that only films with admissions over 150,000 can be evaluated as 'successful' is incorrect and divorced from reality. Films like Berlin Is In Germany or The State I Am In definitely count as an economic success for the producers and distributors despite figures under 150,000. With much better screen averages and lower costs than many mass releases, such films can also amortise their costs comparatively quickly. And small films like the international festival hit England! (under 50,000 admissions) turn out to be profitable in many respects for the producers. Not least because it is here where the careers of young directors and producers can also be built up on an international level."