With film financing facing a crunch, France's regions ("provinces") are expected to take a greater role in bank-rolling film-making. But local producers would prefer the regions' role to be cultural rather than economic.

The hotly contested subject was at the centre of a debate last week organised by l'Atelier Production du Centre Val-de-Loire (APCVL) in Vendome that was attended by an unusual mixture of film-makers and local council officials.

Financing for French film-makers has suffered from the crisis in pay-TV and the restrictions placed on France's once mighty tax-funds (SOFICAs). The Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC) recently launched a discussion paper examining new forms of "alternative funding".

The French regions are already significant film backers, but their intentions and activities differ. One of the biggest, the Rhone-Alpes, adopts a strictly economic approach, putting up Euros 4.3m last year and taking co-producer credits. The Ile-de France (around but not including Paris), in contrast, decides which pictures to back using cultural criteria, irrespective of nationality. Having backed 17 projects to date, including James Ivory's Le Divorce and Guillaume Canet's Mon Idole, it last year provided Euros 2m, allotted in amounts ranging from Euros 150,000 to Euros 700,000.

Film professionals at Vendome expressed a clear preference for an Ile-de France-style cultural subsidy. They argued that a strictly economical or financial approach, in a sector where returns on investment are chronically fragile, could, in the medium term, lead to a withdrawal of the regions. They were also concerned by decision-making processes that are dependent on local politicians. "We must build another Great Wall of China between films and politicians", said Pascal Rogard, general secretary of author-director-producers' association l'ARP.