Hong Kong's leading film organisations plan to appeal to the government for help following a sharp downturn in both production levels and box office for domestic films in the first eight months of the year.

The Federation of Hong Kong Film Workers, an alliance of nine industry associations, is holding a conference next Wednesday (September 18) to discuss ways to revive the declining market. The alliance will then lobby both the Hong Kong and mainland China governments to introduce policy to support the ailing industry.

According to industry body the MPIA, box office for Hong Kong-produced films plunged by 38% to $27m (HK$212m) between January and August 2002. The territory is unlikely to produce more than 70 films this year, around half the number produced in 2001.

"The situation has become serious. We intend to identify the reasons for the decline and find solutions," said federation vice chairman Cheung Chi-sing.

A consultation paper is being drafted which will form the basis of the "Revitalising Hong Kong Film Industry Forum". It will examine a range of initiatives including subsidies, government support in accessing private sector finance and incentives to lure foreign productions to Hong Kong.

However Cheung pointed out that tax breaks, a crutch for several other domestic film industries, are unlikely to have much impact in Hong Kong because of the territory's low tax rates.

Film executives from France and South Korea have been invited to speak at the forum about their own governments' policies in developing domestic film industries.

The $12.8m (HK$100m) Film Development Fund is currently the only help offered to the film industry by the Hong Kong government. Established in 1999, the fund backs one-off projects and events deemed beneficial to the long-term development of the industry, but does not directly support production or distribution.

In a brief respite from the gloom, Hong Kong's Film Services Office recently confirmed that Paramount Pictures is planning to partly shoot the sequel to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Hong Kong early next year, creating more than 100 jobs and injecting an estimated $12.8m (HK$100m) into the economy.