'Stormy weather is expected,' Festival director Sandra Den Hamer warned yesterday at the opening of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. The cause of the disquiet is the growing uncertainty that surrounds Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund, which supports filmmaking in developing countries.

The Fund, named after festival founder Hubert Bals and acknowledged as one of the lynchpins of the festival, has had its application for funding turned down by the Dutch Ministry Of Foreign Affairs. This means that Government financing will stop within two years.

'There is a lot of praise for the fund, but according to Kafkaesque principles, it does not fit the new pattern,' Den Hamer commented.

The Hubert Bals Fund operates on a budget of $1.6m (Euros 1.2m), $844,000 (Euros 650,000) of which comes directly from the Government.

Last night's opening film, The Aerial by Argentine director Esteban Sapir, was backed by the Fund. Prior to the screening, Den Hamer made a direct appeal to the Minister of Culture (who was in attendance) to re-think. 'Tonight, it is not the Hubert Bals Fund but it is the films and the filmmakers from the south who cannot do without your and our support,' Den Hamer stated.

The Fund currently receives applications from about 700 projects a year. It invests in everything from script and project development to digital production, post-production and distribution. Many leading filmmakers on the festival circuit, ranging from Carlos Reygadas to Pablo Trapero and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, have been beneficiaries of Hubert Bals Fund support at key formative points in their career.

The Hubert Bals Fund, founded in 1988, isn't the only body under threat thanks to an overhaul of Dutch laws guiding state aid toward development. IDFA's Jan Vrijman Fund, which invests in documentary work in developing countries, has likewise had its application for funding turned down.

The problem is the new rules regarding development aid. The Ministry provides support to NGOs. Its chief goals are to combat hunger and disease. Culture is low on its radar. 'The people working at the Ministry support us completely. It is only the system that they designed - we don't fit in it,' commented Marianne Bhalotra, who runs the Fund.