Hollywood on Seine for French films as Besson’s dream comes true
Twelve years after he launched the project, French director Luc Besson on Friday officially opened the Cité du Cinéma, a vast one-stop complex of studio and filmmaking facilities just outside Paris.
"I had always said I'd love to make our own films here in France. This is a beautiful
adventure," Besson told French politicians, film executives and project partners.
"And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in this dream," he said under the vast glass and steel vaults of the 1930s power plant dominated by a giant turbine brightly painted by local street artists.
It’s hoped the 170-million-euro "Cité du Cinema", will plug a gap in the French film production landscape, which until now had no complete facilities to work on a film through from beginning to end.
Christophe Lambert, general director of Besson's production company EuropaCorp, said "France has Europe's biggest film industry and yet it was the only European country without the infrastructure to produce a film."
Luc Besson recalled that in 1997 he had had to spend 18 months in Britain to shoot his sci-fi blockbuster "The Fifth Element", because the necessary facilities did not exist in France, even though Paris is the world’s most filmed city.
So in 2000, he set out to create such a studio complex in an Art Deco-style former thermal power plant in Saint-Denis, a run-down town just north of the Paris ring road.
Besson had used the site before to shoot scenes from two of his films, the 1990 hitman drama "Nikita" and "The Professional" (1994)
The site of the complex was purchased by Nef-Lumiere, owned by France's Caisse des Depots and the Vinci conglomerate.
Half of the film sets were financed by EuropaCorp, with the Tunisian businessman Tarak Ben Ammar and the Euro Media group splitting the financing of the remaining 50 percent.
As well as nine film sets, the Cité du Cinema houses a vast office complex, much of it occupied by EuropaCorp which moved its headquarters to Saint Denis, as well as film production facilities, and France’s Louis Lumiere national film school.
It will also host a second film school, created by Besson, to offer a two-year course in screenwriting or directing, free of charge, to some 60 youths with no prior qualifications.
"The students will be able to rub shoulders with Hollywood stars at the cafeteria," joked Lambert, who says he is dealing with estimate requests from top US producers and predicts the studio will be fully booked within a year.
Besson himself started shooting there over the summer for his new film "Malavita" starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, who will be attending a private inauguration dinner on Friday night with the likes of Oscar winner Jean Dujardin.