In a bid to boost the flagging local film industry, the Hong Kong Government officially launched the Film Guarantee Fund yesterday. The new fund was created to help local companies secure bank loans for film production as well as to establish a solid film-financing infrastructure to facilitate the long-term development of the film industry in Hong Kong.

Ten lending financial institutions currently participate in the scheme. Henry Tang, secretary for commerce, industry and technology, expects more institutions to take part at a later stage. Applications for the fund start from 30 April.

Under the scheme, which will operate on a pilot basis for two years, the government will guarantee 50% of the bank loan for each qualifying film of up to a maximum of HK$2,625,000, while production companies have to provide 30% of the total budget.

Acknowledging the contribution of film to the wealth creating in general, Tang says that the new fund will not only benefit the film industry but also stimulate the weak local economy. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on film production, HK$2.50 goes to the economy. With HK$50m set aside for the fund, he said that the total budget of all the films with loan guarantee at any one time could reach HK$140m.

The fund launch comes at a time when the local film industry is reeling from the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), with box office takings at new lows almost every day. Entertainment, together with retail, catering and travel, is reportedly one of the four hardest hit industries by SARS, and the government has pledged to unveil a basket of relief measures to ease the plight.

Tang says that there are also plans for a series of short films on SARS to create more public awareness of the mystery illness.