On the eve of what many expect to be a dramatic re-focusing on lower-budget films made for the local market, the UK's FilmFour has underlined its international strengths with a host of overseas sales.
Sales arm FilmFour International is closing US deal with Sony Pictures Classics on Cannes title Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, having bucked a depressed international market to record its second best Cannes after 2000.
Ironically, the operation's biggest international sales successes in 2000 were Charlotte Gray and Lucky Break, the two FilmFour titles that have attracted most criticism at home.
"Cannes 2000 was driven by just two titles," said sales chief Janine Gold. "This Cannes, we sold across our entire slate."
Sony is finalising a deal on Midlands for North and Latin America and Australia. In another North America deal, First Look Pictures is set to pick up Miranda. Other strong sellers included Michael Caine comedy The Actors and Che Guevara picture Motorcycle Diaries, a Spanish-language film which testified to the ability of stand-out titles to attract buyers despite the market's woes.
One way FilmFour could have avoided cuts were talks held in recent weeks about a partnership with Stewart Till's Signpost Films. The deal might also have involved one of the UK National Lottery franchises if it had gone ahead Rob Woodward, head of Channel 4 commercial arm 4 Ventures, appointed tax-based financier Ingenious to find partners for FilmFour or the division as a whole.
But the talks have been fruitless so far - and very possibly too slow for an increasingly impatient Channel 4. Without bringing in a partner, some form of cutbacks appear inevitable. Bertrand Moullier, head of film at producer's body PACT, this week said that the channel must maintain a commitment to film but appeared ready to negotiate what that role would be.
"Channel 4's support for original British production is enshrined in its license document," he said. "This means the channel's commitment to film will have to be maintained no matter what strategy it adopts. Changing the business model now could be a great opportunity for the channel to re-focus its film strategy and have more impact on the domestic film market."
One scenario being touted is scaling back the venture to act as a commissioning operation as it did in its early days, before becoming a standalone, vertically integrated company. Some fear the move would be accompanied by a cut in FilmFour's annual investment of£30 million, possibly by two thirds.
Such a shift would be a massive blow for the film sector. Some already see it as another example of the Government allowing UK broadcasters to get away with only a token involvement in the film sector.
"Everywhere else in Europe broadcasters are taking a more aggressive role," said one leading industry figure. "M6 and TF1 in France, RTL in Germany and RAI in Italy have all recently moved deeper into film distribution. They realise that, if you are making films, you need to control distribution to some extent if you want an upside."