Luc Besson unveils 'Film City' Paris studios

French filmmaker Luc Besson cut the ribbon Friday on his "Film City", a vast studio complex created in a disused power station to offer Hollywood-style facilities right on the edge of 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 where a giant tubrbine brightly painted by local street artists towered in the centre.

The 170-million-euro "Cite du Cinema", a project 12 years in the making, aims to plug a gap in the French film production landscape, which until now had no one studio facility able to see a movie project through from A to Z.

Back in 1997, Besson had to spend 18 months in Britain to shoot his sci-fi blockbuster "The Fifth Element". Besson recalled how "I went with a heavy heart."

Christophe Lambert, general director of Besson's production firm EuropaCorp, said: "France has Europe's biggest film industry and yet it was the only European country without the infrastructure to produce a film."

So in 2000, the filmmaker set out to create a studio complex that would make it possible to create a film in France from A to Z, in an Art Deco-style former thermal power plant in Saint Denis, a working class suburb north of Paris.

Located just outside the Paris ring road, on the edge of the world's most filmed city, Besson had used the site before to shoot scenes from two hitman dramas, the 1990 "Nikita" and the 1994 "The Professional".

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 on the remaining 50 percent.

As well as nine film sets, the Cite du Cinema houses a vast office complex, much of it occupied by EuropaCorp which shifted its headquarters to Saint Denis, as well as film production facilities, and the 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 fielding quote 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 Jean Dujardin.

And for everybody else, the site is being thrown open Saturday for a one-off tour of what is being dubbed "Hollywood on Seine".

npk-ec/lc/yad

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