Famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar will not make it to Shanghai's premier film festival this year. Organisers of the Shanghai International Film Festival have cancelled next month's event and, naturally, their invitation to the director of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown because of the Sars outbreak. It is the latest in a string of cultural casualties of the virus. For Shanghai, the cancellation represents more than hordes of disappointed film buffs: it is also a setback to its ambitions to overtake Beijing as the arts centre of the mainland. 'Sars has affected the whole country. We will give priority to Sars prevention,' a Shanghai cultural apparatchik said. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television - the festival's main sponsor - is now churning out propaganda to help the war against Sars. The festival has a chequered past. From its star-studded beginning in 1993, attended by Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone, critics say it has slipped in recent years, with poor promotion, bad dubbing and narrow selection of films. Last year, festival organisers won a defamation case against a Xian-based newspaper that claimed the best actress competition was fixed in 2001. Despite the problems, many Shanghai movie-goers still welcomed the chance to see some of the festival's 400-plus films. This year, local media have yet to announce that organisers have drawn the curtain on the event. The cancellation could also have an economic impact. The event includes an associated television festival and two exhibitions, which companies use to sell equipment and programming. But one group will not miss the festival: the mainland's small but vocal minority of independent filmmakers. The Shanghai festival is no match for Cannes or Sundance, or even regional events in Tokyo and Hong Kong, they say. Meng Qi, the indie director of What a Snow Day, said: 'The criteria in Shanghai are unfair, especially for independent filmmakers, who are not allowed to compete. 'I'm not really concerned about the cancellation. We prefer to think about the Oscars or the Cannes festival.'