TheBerlinale began under a cloud with the news of the sudden death yesterday ofFrench producer and European Film Academy chairman Humbert Balsan.

"We have lost one of our dearest friends and we willl miss him terribly," said festival director Dieter Kosslick.

In a long producing career, Balsan worked with directorsof the stature of Youssef Chahine, Claire Denis and James Ivory. He alsochampioned the work of such new directors as Sandrine Veysset (Y Aura-T-IlDe La Neige À Noël') and Ismael Ferroukhi.

At thetime of his death, he was involved in several new projects, Bela Tarr's TheMan From London and Sandrine Veysset's new film, Il Sera Une Fois.He was also one of the stalwarts of the French golf team in the annual UK vs.France match at Dinard.

"Weare profoundly shocked and shaken by the sudden disappearance of HumbertBalsan," Le Club Des Producteurs Europeens said in a statement. "Thisseductive man, lively, and eminently cheerful was liked by all. The films thathe produced were in his own image - eclectic, inspired and luminous."

Born in 1954. Humbert Balsan began his film career as anactor. He worked with many of the legendary names in French cinema, RobertBresson (Lancelot Of The Lake) Jacques Rivette, Maurice Pialat, andJean-Paul Rappeneau, among them. One of his earliest experiences behind thecamera was as Second Unit Director on Robert Bresson's film The DevilProbably (1977).