Mexico's film industry is in an uproar over the federal government's plans to sell or shut down the country's key film institutions. The surprise proposal comes as part of a $150bn austerity package that includes getting rid of state-owned production house Imcine, the decades-old Churubusco Azteca film studio and national film school, Centro de Capacitacion Cinematografica (CCC).

Among the first to react was the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences which accused President Vicente Fox's government of planning to "exterminate local film production, privileging the interests of the US film industry." Academy president Diana Bracho called the measure a 'death sentence' for Mexican cinema. "I urge the people of Mexico, our intellectuals and artists, and to everyone around the world to raise their voices in protest in order to stop this unspeakable disaster from happening," she declared.

In a newspaper column, screenwriter Carlos Cuaron, co-writer of international hit Y Tu Mama Tambien, stated: "This proposal only demonstrates that the current government does not know or understand culture and as a result has no respect for it." If they want to instigate cutbacks, why don't they start with the outrageous salaries of mid and high ranking government officials,!" he ranted.

The 30-year-old film institute, Imcine, has backed more than 100 local films including such recent hits as The Crime Of Father Amaro and Sex, Shame And Tears. Estudios Churubusco, founded in 1944, serviced virtually all the films from Mexico's 'golden age' of cinema in the 40s and 50s. Relatively recent international hits such as The Mask Of Zorro, also shot there. The CCC is the country's most prestigious film school.

Mexican congress is scheduled to debate the proposed draft during the next few weeks before passing it on to the senate.