The UK needs to focus on building a low-budget production base and to stand up more strongly for its interests, visitors to this year's Northern Lights FilmFestival's Industry Summit, held in Newcastle upon Tyne heard.

The future of UK production was among the hottest topics at the event, which attracted an impressive group of filmindustry experts - including executives from Qwerty Films, Icon, Revolution,and the UK Film Council.

During the opening panel on Friday night, Keith Bell of Northmen Productions (The Descent) advised: "Film-makersin this country have to be flexible. We have a number of projects on our slatethat are $15-$20m projects, but the next one we're doing is £1m."

Peter Garde of Zentropa noted that thefilm industry in Denmark is healthy because "Danish film is now on the political agenda" afterlobbying three years ago by a strong producers union and funding from theMinistry of Culture and broadcasters.

Bell responded that the UK could use more of that "political will," and saidthat producers need to mobilize themselves to fight for their rights(especially at the time of the current tax uncertainty.)

Garde agreed: "For me it's strange to see that all thedecisions are made by five people (in the UK)," Garde said, and notedthat in Denmark, an Oscar winner like Andrea Arnold (whose Red Road is a co-production with Zentropa) wouldn't have had to struggle to raise £1.2million in funding for her first feature.

Continuing the theme,speakers on a Saturday panel acknowledged how hard it can be to break into thebusiness. Or how hard it can be for more established film-makersto build sustainable businesses.

Fiona McGuire, head of production atRevolution Films, noted that even an established filmmaking team such asMichael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton can find thecurrent funding climate challenging.

"I don't mean to sound defeatist, butevery time we go out (for funding), it's like starting again," she said.

Producer and programmedirector for Inspiral Grant Kier said the industryneeded to fight for itself more. "Producers in the UK have been absolutely hopeless in lobbying for theirown interests," Kier said. "PACT lobbies for its biggest players, and they havedifferent interests than a producer at my level."

Panellists were, however,more upbeat about how digital filmmaking and digital distribution couldrepresent new opportunities for emerging filmmakers.

Before a pitching session, Michael Kuhn also spoke about Qwerty's work withthe UK Film Council and Film Four's Low Budget Film Scheme. He said they aredeveloping 10 features with an average budget of £1 million, with some interestfrom established filmmakers including Roger Michell,Stephen Frears and Danny Boyle.

"We're trying to turn thefilmmaking process on its head, it's all about the director and the idea," Kuhnsaid. "The ideas we're looking for are commercial and also ahead of the curve,if there is such a thing." He said that many UK features are "appallingly expensive" compared toAmerican independent films and that he hopes these films can move through thedevelopment process quickly.

Although Kuhn did say thatthe UK business shouldn't be based on low-budget filmsalone.

"But let's start there and let's think about the bigger sustainablebusiness," he said.

Other industry summitattendees included Alexei Boltho from BBC Films, Christos Michaels from Icon, Chris Bird from Love Film, EdwardFletcher and Eve Gabereau from Soda Pictures, and producerGayle Griffiths.

In addition to panels, meetingsand networking events, the summit offered a number of awards for filmmakers.

Regional filmmaker ChrisTaylor won the £5,000 prize for his pitch of animated feature The Ministry.

Eight projects had beenpitched (selected from a pool of 100) to industry experts Kuhn, Emma Clarke of the UKFC's New Cinema Fund,Garde of Zentropa andJulia Short of Verve Pictures.

Honourable mentions went to Meg Thomas, producer of horrorfilm The Memory of Stone, and toFinnish writer/director Jari Nissinenfor his project Porn & Porridge.

Newcastle-based Ian Fenton won the North Star Film Prize, whichcarries up to £40,000 in funding for him to develop and shoot his short film Black Dog. Newcastle-based Yipp Films will produce with script consultants The ScriptFactory and the film will premiere at Northern Lights 2006.

Other pitchers in thesession were David Jinks, Samm Haillay,Ian Fenton, Ryan JW Smith, and Chris Blaine. Their industry mentors were Adam Betteridge of Great British Films, Nigel Thomas of MatadorPictures, Tally Garner of Curtis Brown, Mads PeterOle Olesen of Scanbox, NickManzi of Redbus, MichaelRose of Magic Light, Luke Morris of Warp and Elinor Day of Darlow Smithson.

While the industry summit is over, the festivalcontinues through November 24 at Newcastle's TynesideCinema, with a programme devoted to UKand Northern European film.

The festival's funders are Culture 10, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative,Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council, Arts Council, Northern Film and Media, UK Film Council, ONE North East, Northern RockFoundation and Wansbeck Council.