A word that has recurred with increasing frequency over the last few weeks is 'scary'.

It is not an unknown word, of course: film is a scary business. It is, at heart, about betting the house on predictions of future audiences' tastes, and showing blind faith in a limited distribution infrastructure.

Showing a blissful unawareness of the state of the world economy, a seasoned producer told a young hopeful at Edinburgh last week that 'if you want stability, go and run a bank'. But you get his point - there has always been quite a bit more to fear than fear itself in this business.

But now there are the added elements of financial volatility, a credit crunch, the digital revolution, globalisation, a drop in TV money and escalating popcorn prices.

So just how frightening is this new situation' Is it the kind that raises a mild shiver, or the cold-sweat type that necessitates a change of underwear. Or is it the overwhelming kind that leads to the office window ledge' For most, it is just a feeling that the old business is coming apart at the seams, but that can be a pretty scary feeling in itself.

The demise of UK-based distributor Tartan Films is the latest in a series of upheavals that have given the industry the jitters. Here was a distributor that prided itself on thrills and riding a succession of film waves from around the world. It was a business willing to take risks - to the considerable benefit of UK film-goers - and yet it still came a cropper.

But it is not just the risk-takers who are afraid - even those who have managed to establish themselves in the business are now scared.

Fareed Zakaria, editor-in-chief of Newsweek International, has been writing about the 'post American world'. He says historians looking back at this period in history will focus on what he calls 'the rise of the rest'.

The current gloom tends to be restricted to the developed countries and markets, and contrasts sharply with the rising political, economic and cultural confidence of the 'rest'.

Industry panels at Edinburgh frequently returned to the effect of digital distribution: the scariness came from fears of piracy eating up revenues, the loss of finance from linear television and the lack of a business model which allows the existing film business to keep its economic strength on new platforms.

What was striking was that for younger emerging film-makers, there was a much more bullish approach: so what if pirates steal my film if the alternative is invisibility or reliance on a tiny distribution window'

It is important to understand that one person's scary moment is another's opportunity.

Anyone who attended a mainstream exhibitor conference following the collapse of the box office in 2005 will remember the sense of overpowering gloom. But while globalisation and digital change are the most profound changes in the history of film, this is a business with an extraordinary power to adapt and survive. And underlying all the disruption is one core point that must not be lost: people want film.

At Cinema Expo in Amsterdam last week, there was a sense of business as usual. Not chirpy confidence, exactly, but a feeling there is a strong future for most however choppy the waters.

The focus had switched from threats of digitalisation to the opportunities ahead - even taking into account concerns about the cost of 3D installation.

The initial assumption in the wake of the rise in home and mobile entertainment in the digital age was that the theatre would be the first to go. Yet now it feels like cinema, even in developed markets, is far from being a dead duck.

The response to fear has to be flight or fight, but this is a business that has always enjoyed a scrap.

Do you agree' E-mail michael.gubbins@emap.com.