More than midway through the 38th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), there is a clear feeling of relief among industry delegates.

Some had feared that thanks to the global economic downturn, even an event as well-established as IFFR's coproduction market CineMart might have fallen completely flat.

However, despite a cautious and muted start to the festival, it has become apparent that business is slowly being done.

In one of the first firm deals to emerge from CineMart, $3.3m (Euros 2.5m) German/Russian project The Snakehead, has secured IDTV as its Dutch coproduction partner. Directed by Guka Omorava and co-scripted by Omarova and Sergei Bodrov, the film is being produced by Les Petits Lumieres and Kinofabrika GmbH.

In another firm deal confirmed this week, Philippe Bober's Coproduction office came on board Ruben Otlund's Play as co-producer. Bober's company is also handling sales on the $2m (Euros 1.6m) feature, Ostlund's follow-up to festival hit Involuntary. The film is being produced by Swedish outfit, Platform Produktion, founded in 2002 by Ostlund and Erik Hemmendorff.

Billed as 'a tragic and humorous beahvioural study' Play is about a gang of young robbers who make their victims race for their belongings.

Meanwhile, despite familiar grumbles from sales agents and distributors about CineMart projects being 'too small', 'too esoteric' and 'too underdeveloped', many have expressed enthusiasm about the quality of the 36 films in project stage that are being presented this week.

'CineMart has narrowed in focus but intelligently so,' said Jeremy Nathan of South African outfit DV8. 'I think that it could not continue to grow in size. It needed to grow laterally. The quality of the meetings is more important than the number of meetings.' Nathan added.

However Nathan noted that there were more European projects than in previous years, no African projects and very few South American and Asian projects, If there is a downside, it is the lack of world cinema.' he said.

Some CineMart attendees acknowledged that their ability to invest in coproduction has been lessened by the credit crunch. For example, Simon Perry, Chief-Executive of the Irish Film Board, noted that the Film Board is coping with a 13.5% decrease in its budget from $26.5m to $23m (Eu20m to Eu17.3m)

'I wouldn't rule out being able to do one or two minority co-productions but a real programme of minority co-production based on recriprocity - that will have to be reconsidered and maybe put on hold,' Perry said.

At the CineMart closing night party, the Arte France Cinema Award and $ 13,000 prize(10,000 Euros) was awarded to Lance Weiler's Him. This is Weiler's latest cross-media project - a collision of horror film, gaming and interactive technology, placing the viewer literally in the shoes of the protagonist. Him is being produced through US company Seize The Media.

Meanwhile, The Prince Claus Fund Film grant worth $20,000 (15,000 Euros) went to Birdie by Byamba Sakhya (Mongolia). This is being produced through Guru Media. Flemish filmmaker Peter Brosens (Khadak) is a production consultant on the project.

Birdie has been billed as a poetic film about 'a boy from a poor Mongolian family struggling with the enduring harsh reality of a society in tranisition.'

The Prince Claus Fund grant is given every year to a filmmaker from Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Caribbean.

In the main IFFR programme, one feature generating strong buyer interest was Morphia, the latest film from Russian maverick Alexey Balabanov.

Morphia is scripted by the late Sergei Bodrov Jr. and adapted from from Mikhail Bulgakov's semi-autobiographical Short Story Collection Notes of a Young Doctor. Set in 1917 it follows the surreal and often horrific experiences of a morphine-addicted Russian doctor in the provinces on the eve of the revolution.

However no deals were done in Rotterdam. Morphia's sales agent Raisa Fomina of Moscow-based Intercinema has said she is holding off until the film's market premiere in Berlin next week.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the festival has hosted heated debates about new distribution models and alternative ways of securing feature funding.

Companies specializing in cross-media projects seem to be faring better than those reliant on conventional backing. For example UK production outfit Illuminations whose films straddle the worlds of art, film and publishing announced details of its new production slate at the festival.

Illuminations is pushing ahead with Sanatorium Under The Hour Glass, the latest feature from cult filmmakers the Quay Brothers, and a new Chris Petit project, Crossing Borders.

Commenting on the way the company secures financing from multiple sources, Illuminations' Keith Griffiths explained:

'The scale at which we work is much smaller than most people. It's not only mixed-economy but mixed format that fits into the new world.'