France threw out a challenge to Hollywood on Thursday as film giant Luc Besson announced the launch of a giant Cinema City to be built inside a disused power plant outside Paris by 2012.
To be called La Cite du Cinema (The City of Cinema), the huge complex on the northern fringe of the capital will gather together film sets, editing and light studios, post-production facilities, offices, theaters and even a film school.
The machine about to be born here will be the world s best dream machine, said Alain Terzian, head of the French producers association, speaking inside the vast early 20th century structure shut down three decades ago.
Being refurbished at a cost of ?140 million ($197 million), the power-plant built in 1929 to keep the Paris subway running, is a rambling 62,000 square-meter complex complete with weeds, graffiti and splintered glass roofing.
The director-producer-writer shot scenes from both Nikita and Leon among its metal girders, steel staircases and mammoth machine parts.
People are happy in the US, the stars will love coming to Paris to shoot, Besson said.
But his dream-child was years in the making before winning support from the industry as well as from local and state authorities, as well as financiers.
The 50-year-old director-producer-writer of blockbusters The Big Blue, The Fifth Element and Arthur and The Minimoys, said the notion of erecting Hollywood-style studios in a country which is the world s third filmmaker and Europe s biggest dated back to the late 1990s.
When I was working on ‘The Fifth Element,’ which had a ?90 million budget, I suddenly realized I couldn t make the film in France, the studios weren t there. I had to leave and work in London, he told a news conference.
I decided that day to fight for us to have studios worthy of Hollywood.
Besson, who has been considered the French Steven Spielberg by some, made a directorial debut at age 24 and since produced more than 80 films.
Launch date for Cinema City has been set for 2012 just ahead of the Cannes film festival that takes place each year mid-May, and the two-and-a-half year building program is due to start next September.
Under the scheme financed jointly by the Caisse des Depots financial institution and Vinci real estate conglomerate, space in the complex will be available for rent to filmmakers, producers or post-production firms, for instance.
So far, Besson s own film group, EuropaCorp and Frontline, have signed up for space as have Tunisian film tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar s Quinta group, as well as the Euro Media Group, Europe s leading audiovisual firm.
The fact that there was no centralized production facility in France was simply unbelievable, Ammar said.
We now have the possibility of working with a unique tool that will enable us to compete with America, he added.
Earlier this month YouTube announced it was showing Home, an environmental documentary about Earth produced by Besson, at the same time as it was being released in movie theaters.
Home was released in 50 countries on June 5 to mark World Environment Day.