Germany's State Minister for Culture Christina Weiss has responded to growing criticism of her support for the setting up of an AMPAS-style German Film Academy by stressing the independence of the annual German Film Awards.

Earlier this year Weiss voiced her support for a German Academy after a group of key industry players led by producer Bernd Eichinger suggested that a body modelled on Hollywood's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences be established to decide on the winners for the German Film Awards held each June.

But after hundreds of German film professionals recently sent two open letters warning against any move to hand over the German Film Awards or Lolas to the proposed new academy, Weiss said the decision making process behind the awards would remain independent.

"The Film Award is and remains a highly remunerated art prize and a funding instrument of the state, the Academy will therefore not be a self-service store", Weiss stressed.

"What matters to us is that all levels of the industry are involved in the selection. That is why it is also important to put the Academy on as broad a footing as possible. What procedure can be more democratic, competent and balanced'."

Weiss also suggested that the proposed Academy could "act as a strong ambassador abroad. I am pleased that the industry is reflecting on its own strengths and taking things in hand."

The Minister's comments came after she received two letters signed by more than 400 German film professionals including German Film Award winners Christian Petzold (The State I Am In), Hans Christian Schmid (Distant Lights), Fred Kelemen (Fate), Almut Getto (Do Fish Do It') expressing concern that a film award presented by an academy would be "above all things, a marketing event for the mainstream".

"It is feared that film as art should give way to the industry's dictat. State money would thus be misused", argued the Open Letter initiated by director Fred Kelemen. "The result would be the monoculture of entertainment cinema, the copy of the Hollywood cinema, whose only goal is to bring in profits."

"What would go missing here is what is essential for art and culture - the vision, the variety , the democracy of the 'other view' of this world and another individual approach to artistic means. The attempt to eliminate the artistic film has a sad tradition in Germany. The growing hostility toward art and a cultural conformism which leads to marginalisation, ignorance and arrogance must be met with resistance."