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UN Accord Sparks Concern Among Indie Filmmakers

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -- A recent move by the U.N. agency, UNESCO, to preserve cultural diversity against the threat of globalization has U.S. independent filmmakers worried they could be frozen out of foreign markets.

The concerns are expected to be voiced heatedly at the American Film Market and its companion festival, AFI Fest, which start near Los Angeles on Wednesday. The event is one of the largest marketplaces for the sale of independent film around the world.

Late last month, members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), voted 148 to 2 for an accord that supporters claim will protect local cultures from globalization. The accord does not go into effect until it is approved by the national legislatures of 30 countries.

The debate was cast as a battle between global conformity and cultural diversity, with delegates from several smaller countries saying they were afraid of being swallowed up by American culture.

But the United States and Hollywood's major movie studios said they see the UNESCO accord as little more than trade protectionism and worry foreign countries will use it as a way to impose quotas or raise other barriers on the importation of American movies, television programs and music.

"We tend to be less strident than the big studios on issues of cultural diversity because we tend to promote it ... but there is substantial concern over how this will impact the industry," said Jean Prewitt, who heads the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which produces the market.

The market, also called AFM, annually generates more than $500 million in business deals between producers and distributors, who raise money to fund movies by licensing the rights to release films outside their own countries.

The independent film community is concerned that, if foreign countries institute or raise quotas -- many countries such as France and China already have them in place -- major U.S. studios will easily place their big-budget films, such as the "Spider-Man" or "Harry Potter films in theaters. But the low-budget independents, whose titles do not 006 and beyond.

This year's AFM has a record number of exhibitors, 410, from 33 countries. AFI Fest will screen 127 movies from 40 countries.

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