Aspiring film-makers have it good in Germany. "No other country on earth enables so many film-makers to shoot their first film," says Gebhard Henke, head of the film department at the powerful Cologne-based public broadcaster WDR.

Indeed, there are so many film prizes and stipends for young screenwriters, directors and producers that the up-and-coming generation has numerous ways to get the ball rolling on their pet projects. For example, the annual First Steps Award for German film school graduates is presented in Berlin on Aug 30, with a total of $56,273 on offer.

The federal structure of Germany means that the various Laender all vie through their film subsidy bodies to provide the best conditions for promising young talents to blossom. Take Bavaria as an example. Its film and television fund, FFF Bayern, pays special attention to new film-makers with support for graduation films. Recipients include Vanessa Joop, whose Engel & Joe has been selected for this month's Montreal World Film Festival. The State of Bavaria is also one of the partners of the First Movie Programme with broadcasters BR, ZDF, ProSieben, SAT.1 and RTL, and local production companies Bavaria Film, Kinowelt Filmproduktion, ndF, MTM, Hager Moss Film, the Tele Muenchen Group (TMG) and TV-60.

The First Movie Programme links up-and-coming writers, producers and directors either with one of the sponsors or another company to work together on the development of feature-length film or TV project. As the initiative's director Christiane Conradi points out: "Being part of the First Movie Programme is something like a seal of approval, because films then seem to attract funding support for development or production itself."

The demand for such assistance is huge. Last year, over 90 projects were submitted. Nine were then selected for submission to the partners. The first projects have since gone into production or have already been completed: Vladimir Torbica's feature debut Der Brief Des Kosmonauten was produced earlier this year by TMG's production arm ClasArt Filmproduktion and will be released in the cinemas by Concorde Film.

Baden-Wuerttemberg is also known as a centre of excellence thanks to the efforts of the Film Academy in Ludwigsburg and the colleges in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. Rather than see budding talents enticed to Berlin and Munich, the regional government teamed up with the local public film fund MFG, the Film Academy and Stuttgart-based production company EuroArts Medien to launch the First Film initiative to back up to 10 debut films over the next two-and-a-half years.

"The projects can be in a language other than German, but the important thing is that they are shot in Baden-Wuerttemberg," explains EuroArts' Marina Mueller, adding that the average budget for each film will be around $684,000 (DM1.5m). EuroArts has committed $2.3m to the initiative.

As with the partners in Bavaria's First Movie Programme, EuroArts sees its involvement in First Film as a way of gaining access to new talents before they are snatched up by the competition. So far, the first project to be selected for First Film is Katalin Goedroes' coming-of-age tale Mutanten, which will be produced by EuroArts with Egoli Tossell Film, ZDF Kleines Fernsehspiel and the French production outfit Les Films de l'Observatoire.

Abstracted from Screen International