Work on more than 30 German feature film projects could be ‘at acute risk’ in 2009 because of the uncertainty surrounding the finances of the German Federal Film Fund (FFA), according to the German Producers Alliance.

The figures come from a survey of its members by the Alliance. Three quarters of the producers who responded to an Alliance questionnaire felt that this was a possibility.

The problem stems from fears that the FFA’s automatic funding could be suspended as a result of tight finances following recent legal action.

Industry sources have suggested that the production volume involved is at least $135m (Euros 100m) and could be more as not all members had responded to the questionnaire.

The future of the national fund’s operation was put into question when the German Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled at the end of February that the FFA’s cinema levy is unconstitutional.

According to the German Film Law (FFG) cinema owners are required to pay a levy of between 1.8% and 3% of the annual gross turnover made on each cinema screen so long as the lower threshold of $95,175 (Euros 75,000) gross turnover is reached.

Although the rate of levies paid by the exhibitors and video industry is written into Germany’s Film Law, broadcasters have always been able to negotiate voluntary payments to the FFA.

In response to a case submitted by the UCI/Kinowelt cinema group and five other exhibitors, the Leipzig-based court stated that the FFG was unconstitutional as all three groups were not treated equally on the issue of the levies.

Since then, the four cinema chains who brought the action in Leipzig have paid the levy ‘with reservation’, meaning that the money is blocked in an account and cannot be paid out.

State Minister for Culture Bernd Neumann declared that the cinema chains were endangering their own existence through their actions.

Speaking at an event organised by the German Producers Alliance, he indicated that he would be looking to introduce a revision to the new German Film Law before the case is referred to the Constitutional Court.

This would allow contributions by cinema exhibitors, video industry and broadcasters alike to be written into law.

Meanwhile, the Producers Alliance’s general survey of its 100-strong membership painted a grim picture of the future facing the German film and television industry at the moment.

While 46% of the members described their current economic situation as positive and over 60% said turnover had remained the same or grown since last year, 56% saw developments from 2010 as ‘uncertain’ or ‘negative.’

In addition, 22% of the members said that they had to shed jobs this year, compared to 17% in 2008,

Meanwhile 30% of the companies reported that they had programme commissions cancelled by broadcasters. On average, this equates to two projects per company or approximately 40 productions in total.

According to the Alliance’s board chairman Alexander Thies, there had usually been a cancellation rate of 10-15% by the broadcasters in the past.

However the doubling of cancellations was in large part due to the ‘present catastrophic situation of the advertising revenues, in particular, at the private stations.’