Plans to restructure government funding for film production has set off a wave of protests from Hungarian filmmakers who claim it will give them fewer sources of cash to green-light new productions.

Last year Hungarian filmmakers, who are heavily reliant on government subsidies, produced 27 feature films, the largest annual production in recent years, with government funding amounting to about $3.5m (1 billion forints).

With most Hungarian films unable to recover their budgets at the box office, the industry depends heavily on government subsidies for its existence and plans to change the system have alarmed filmmakers. The Association of Hungarian Film Artists earlier this year declared a new draft film law that would restructure film subsidies unacceptable. The new law currently before parliament would create a national film center that would consolidate all sources of government film funding under one roof.

Funding currently comes from three government bodies, the Hungarian Motion Picture Fund, which last year gave about $1.4m (400m forints), ORTT the government body that regulates the broadcast industry, about $1.1m (300m) and the Ministry for Culture, the largest source of funding which kicked in about $1.8m (500m forints).

Filmmakers are afraid that this would put the decisions for which projects are green-lighted into too few hands. Those drafting the law have responded by saying heads of the funding body will be fully independent and will include key figures from the film industry.

"Hungarian films have to be subsidized," said Andras Kalman, who heads Intercom the country's largest film distribution outfit. "To break even a Hungarian film would have to achieve one million admissions - the best so far is about 600,000."

Gladiator, the top film for 2000, had only 700,000 admissions. The average budget for a Hungarian film is about $350,000 - $700,000 and Hungarian films make up only about six percent of the total box office.

Kalman believes that only government subsidies combined with sponsorship and private investment can keep the Hungarian film industry alive.

Director Barnas Kabay whose film Dream Car topped the Hungarian box office earlier this year agrees that state support is essential - despite the fact that government funding did not make up any part of his $527,000 (150m forint) budget. The popular comedy which has already topped 250,000 admissions. was backed by broadcaster RTL Klub, private sponsors and his own money. But despite the film's success he will need foreign distribution deals for it to be profitable.