Spain's film funding crisis is escalating, with producers, actors, broadcasters and the government all blaming each other for a major production slowdown.

Newly released figures show that both local productions and foreign acquisitions have plummeted in Spain this year. Spanish producers' federation FAPAE estimates that 84 films will shoot in Spain in 2002, down almost 25% from 2001. "But these films were contracted last year, before the crisis," warns FAPAE president Eduardo Campoy. "The crisis will begin to be noticeable as of now."

In a mix of heel-digging and blame-seeking, interest groups have begun pointing fingers at one another. In the last few weeks alone, local producers' and distributors' associations have both publicly accused the country's cash-strapped broadcasters of stonewalling their films, and condemned the government for its inadequate support.

Producers have criticised actors for not lowering their fees in accordance with shrinking TV backing. Actors, indignant, responded that not only shouldn't they be held responsible for the current crisis, but they aren't even receiving their fair share of revenues on work already completed and released. All are waiting with bated breath to see if the proposed merger between pay-TV platforms Via Digital and Canal Satelite Digital gets the go-ahead - and helps alleviate the situation.

If the current situation continues, says Campoy, it "could lead to the closure of Spanish cinema in 2003." Independent and arthouse distributors, four of whom recently launched lobbying group ADICINE (Independent Film Distributors' Association), say their very existence is "on the verge of extinction" if broadcasters don't begin picking up rights to their films. "No film can be financed without the support of a broadcaster," says Alta Films CEO Enrique Gonzalez Macho.

Foreign acquisitions have dropped drastically: the usually prolific Alta Films hadn't acquired a single new title in 18 months prior to September pick-ups 11.09.01 and The Magdalene Sisters, while Golem Distribucion said it has gone from an annual eight or ten pick-ups to just one or two this year, including Susanne Bier's Dogme title Open Hearts. The members of ADICINE, unveiled in early October, called on the government to ensure that broadcasters fulfill their EU obligation to invest 5% of their annual incomes in European product.

In a September press conference at the San Sebastian International Film Festival attended by a multitute of curious producers, distributors, exhibitors and broadcasters, FAPAE decried the government's film policy on two fronts. First, for its reported plans to slash the country's film guarantee fund by about 23%, from Euros 40.6m to Euros 31.2m. And second, for "hiding data" concerning broadcasters' obligation to invest 5% of their annual incomes in EU product.

In one of the few optimistics remarks heard in recent weeks, FAPAE said it expected Spanish films' domestic box office market share could rise by year-end from a current 10.7% to as much as 12% thanks to forthcoming big-name premieres such as Alex de la Iglesia's 800 Bullets (800 Balas), David Trueba's Soldiers Of Salamina (Soldados De Salamina) starring Ariadna Gil, Jaume Balaguero's Darkness starring Lena Olin and Anna Paquin, and Oscar-winner Jose Luis Garci's Story Of A Kiss (Historia De Un Beso).