Kim Dalton, chief executive of the Australian Film Commission (AFC), has expressed 'great concern' at new figures released today that indicate a dramatic fall in Australian production levels.

The total number of features of all types made in the 12 months to June 30 fell to 26 from 39 in the previous year. Not since 1994/95, when 20 films were produced, have numbers been this low.

Australian features showed the largest decline, falling from 30 in the previous year to 19. The highest number in the last decade has been 41 in 1998/99, and the lowest, again in 1994/95, was 17.

The total value of production in the year under review fell by 63% from US$94.4m (A$131m) to just US$35.3m. The absence of any large foreign-financed features in the survey, and foreign investment being at its lowest level on record, were key factors.

There were no Australian features with budgets over A$10m (US$7.2 million), compared to three last year and two in the year before, and there was only one in the A$6 -- $10 million range compared to three in each of the last two years. Nearly 40% of the total spend came from Government sources, mostly the Film Finance Corporation Australia.

There have never been many co-productions made in Australia and this year's two, Love's Brother and The Night We Called It A Day, both with the UK, matched the previous year's two. Both had budgets of more than A$10 million.

The number of foreign features fell from a high of seven last year, to five in the past year. US$121.8m was spent in Australia, US$11.5m less than last year. The biggest spenders were Peter Pan and The Great Raid.

"The results are of great concern and a reminder of just how fragile Australian film and television production is," said Dalton. "A downturn in the availability of funding both from overseas and within Australia, coupled with a downturn in the foreign production sector, has reduced the size of feature film and TV drama production by almost a quarter."

The value of all Australian film and TV drama production decreased by 21% to US$195.2m, and the total expenditure within the country of film and television of all types fell by 23% to US$369.6m, the first time figures have dropped in eight years. The AFC compiles production figures on an annual basis.

The figures were released on the eve of the Screen Producers Association of Australia convention, which starts on Nov 18 in Melbourne.