After much speculation aboutthe future of the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival (YIFFF), it wasofficially announced today that the 17-year-old event is being shut down.

The closure is due to thecurrent state of bankruptcy in the tiny town of Yubari in the Hokkaido region in the north of Japan.

The festival was one of manyinitiatives to kickstart the economy of Yubari, which was once a booming coalmine town of 160,000 people, but saw its population dwindle to 10,000 after thelast mine closed in 1990.

A cycle of repaying debtswith fresh loans, as well as recent cuts in the central government's budgetallocations for municipalities, led to a state of bankruptcy and financialrestructuring of which YIFFF has been a casualty.

A number of other tourisminitiatives failed, but Yubari always drew a strong following from filmmakersand film lovers alike. Under programming director Tokitoshi Shiota, thefestival featured a combined programme of entertaining Hollywood films, independent films from Japan and overseas and cutting-edge genre work, as well aschampioning young filmmakers and digital cinema.

The wintry event alwaysreceived positive notices and attracted a diverse number of world famousdirectors and actors, both as guests and jury members, including Dennis Hopper,Shintaro Katsu, Kwak Jae-yong, Steve Martin, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Gaspar Noe,Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Quentin Tarantino.

The name Yubari wasimmortalised in Tarantino's Kill Bill:Vol. 1 with the naming of female assassin Gogo Yubari. Director HouHsiao-hsien shot exterior scenes in the snowy streets during the festival forhis 2001 film Millennium Mambo.

The cancellation of YIFFFfollows the indefinite hiatus of the Tokyo International Fantastic FilmFestival, announced earlier this month due to lack of sponsors, in anenvironment that is becoming increasingly difficult for smaller festivals tothrive.