Lithuania, which has lagged behind its Baltic neighbours in terms of film production, is poised to see major changes in advance of EU accession next year.

Increased state funding, a new film law and the impending privatization of its state owned film studios all signal better times ahead for Lithuanian filmmakers who have struggled to produce an average of one feature film a year over the past decade.

Both Latvia and Estonia produce two or three features a year mostly backed by state support, which is about double that of Lithuania.

With a population of 3.7 million Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic states, but in terms of government support it ranks last. But that is set to change according to Dr Grazina Arlickaite, head of international relations at the Lithuanian Film Studios in Vilnius.

Dr Arlickaite was speaking at a meeting of Baltic film industry professionals convened to discuss the future of their film industries after EU accession as part of this year's special Focus On Baltic Films section during the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

"Joining the European Union is about opportunities, and it is up to us how we will use these opportunities," said Arlickaite, describing the major restructuring of the film industry currently underway in Lithuania.

A new film law, approved by parliament last year is set to start operating by the end of 2003. It provides for the creation of a National Film Centre modeled after similar institutions in neighbouring Scandinavia.

Government support for film is set to rise from a paltry Euros1m a year to about Euros3m, partly financed by a tax on video cassettes and cinema tickets. The Lithuanian State Film Studios is also set to be privatised by the end of the year. Lithuania has also joined Media Plus this year and is set to join Eurimages in 2004.

Co-productions with its European neighbours are vital for a country with only 12 cinemas and Lithuanian filmmakers are hoping joining the EU will increase their chances of attracting more foreign productions.

This year two co-productions are already underway, Septyni Nematomi Zmones (Seven Invisible Men) directed by Lithuania's best known director Sarunas Bartas and Getas (Ghetto) directed by Audrius Juzenas.

Septyni Nematomi Zmones which is currently shooting in the Ukraine is a road movie that takes its characters from Lithuania via Poland to the southern Ukraine each trying to escape his own demons. Produced by Bartas's Kinema Studios the film is a co-production between Lithuania, France, Portugal and The Netherlands.

Getas, based on a true story about a Jewish theatre that operated in the Vilnius ghetto during the Nazi occupation, is a co-production between the Vilnius based Seansas Productions and German production outfits Dragon Cine and New Transit Entertainment.

Another sign that Lithuania is forging closer ties with its neighbours is the recent Polish production Insatiability directed by Cezary Pazura and produced by Sting Productions which recently wrapped after shooting in Lithuania.

In fact, 2003 looks to be a bumper year for Lithuanian film with Vienui Vieni (Utterly Alone) a World War II drama directed by Jonas Vaitkus which is now in post production set for release in autumn.