Europe now may just be on equal footing with Hollywood in terms of sound-stage real estate thanks to Luc Besson (“Fifth Element,” “Taken,” “Nikita”). The French filmmaker’s twelve-year-in-the-making dream of a movie studio has materialized with the official inauguration last night of the Cité du Cinéma (City of Cinema) in the northern Paris suburb of Saint Denis. Visibly moved, the director drove home the point during his remarks to the 300 or so guests that his own pride helped launch the project and see it to its conclusion. The Cité includes nine studios, classrooms and office space spread over a gargantuan 67,000 square-feet complex combining every area of making, administering and learning about film.
One reason for the project was for Besson, who never got to go to film school himself, to ensure that future generations would have access to the opportunity to learn filmmaking, with disadvantaged populations being given just as much attention as the others. The racial climate and historical baggage of France is such that immigrant populations have all but been shut out of the country’s elite schools, to say nothing of competitive arts programs. Things are evolving significantly, however.
France’s most Hollywood-friendly director (Besson’s film shop Europacorp has co-produced several highly successful films stateside, the “Taken” franchise, among others) commented that, “a movie set is to a director what a kitchen is to a chef or an operating room is to surgeon.” The Cité was built in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris.
Besson lauded French professionalism and excellence, reminding people present last night that Hollywood routinely recruits set designers and D.P.s from his side of the pond (by the same token, Pixar’s most sought-after recruit animators come from the Paris-based school Ecole des Gobelins). He also praised the fact that his project could be implemented, in a country in which entrepreneurism is often undermined by negativity and a third-world-like bureaucracy. “Pessimism is a national sport in France. But love too–even more so,” he declared, before getting a little emotional (besides being an extremely smart and perceptive film producer and filmmaker, the ole boy’s also a big-hearted sentimental).
In his remarks he repeated several times that this new film studio is for everyone to use and for tomorrow’s filmmaker generation to learn and ply their trade, pointing especially to local students from the “neuf-deux,” short for “92,” which designates the the working-class and migrant parts of the district in which the Cité is now located. Besson’s altruism and the fact that he’s paving the way for tomorrow’s filmmakers make him a compelling actor and sets him apart from the rest.
His production company Europacorp is now also based at the Cité, occupying about 22,000 square feet of space on its own.
“Malavita” starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer is currently in production here.
Check out this brand-new video covering last night’s event. It’s in French, but you can watch parts of the ceremony and check out the inside of the studios.