Film-makers across the world are incredibly generous with their time and expertise in supporting the next generation of talent. But is enough attention given by film policy-makers to nurturing the next generation of cinema-goers, or at least those whose tastes extend beyond the studio hits'

The Film Department chief executive and former Miramax president Mark Gill gave the question some impetus this week with a provocative speech suggesting the 'sky really is falling' on arthouse film in the US.

What he spelled out was the harsh reality that the film business is getting tougher with financial returns from sales and advertising dropping - and all against a backdrop of competition for customer time.

All of that is true, as is his conclusion which, roughly speaking, comes down to 'you have to be nuts to enter today's film business, but then there'll always be plenty of nuts about in movies'.

There's another dimension here too. In assessing the state of the changing market, there's a consensus that it is becoming more customer-led. The comforting side of the theory is that the arthouse film fan in a digital age will be able to get much easier access to a much wider range of films.

There are a number of obstacles in the path to such a dream - distribution models, digital rights and so on but that's not the issue here. Instead, it is about how those arthouse fans are created.

At last year's Europa Cinemas conference in Bucharest, the owner of a small cinema stood up and said, close to tears: 'I think we may be the last generation of arthouse film-goers.'

Given a certain melodramatic bent in many of those involved in such businesses, his statement was dismissed with a box of handkerchiefs, a 'there-there'. But there is a point here for many countries. Arthouse cinema relies on exposure.

Everyone's cinematic evolution starts in the mainstream, and there are not too many of today's most excitable lovers of the cinematic avant-garde who actually started with a late Godard. But what created that shift to the supposed higher reaches of film culture'

That depends on where one stands. For a great many film fans and certainly a large number of cultural leaders around the world, it's a matter of education: Hollywood churns out hamburgers (though even the nouvelle vague was prepared to accept exceptions) - but one's cinematic palate matured over the years to demand more challenging fare.

The notion that there is a hierarchy of film, a superiority of culture is, of course, open to debate. But even those who reject such elitism believe that exposure to arthouse film is critical to the development of taste.

And here lies a problem in much of the world. There are a few key ways that exposure can be ensured.

One is the theatre. The arthouse theatres, distributors and indeed sales agents are heroes of theatrical distribution. But they are in a business that is coming under pressure, squeezed by more efficient commercial distribution and struggling with pressure on their business models, such as television pre-sales.

Television is itself perhaps the most important potential means of bringing arthouse to a wider audience. Again there is an issue here. It's one of the post-modern ironies that increased choice often narrows cultural taste.

For many older arthouse fans, their exposure to the classics came from the control of the media by a tiny cultural elite in charge of what was often just a tiny number of often state-run services. Programmers in a world in which there were just a couple of channels to choose from routinely commissioned film and drama deemed good for us.

Now there is a bewildering range of channels competing for a share of advertising and sponsorship. The plus side is that there are now whole channels devoted to great films - the bad news is that they cater to the converted.

And so the final exposure in a few countries comes down to education. Some, notably the French, treat cinema as a serious subject to be learned. Cinema is part of the national culture (or national myth) in the same way that food is. But such notions are under fire.

If one believes we are heading to a customer-centric future, it seems only logical that more attention is put into nurturing demand than simply feeding supply.