Cinema complex on outskirts of Paris heralded as “Hollywood à la Française” has been operational since the beginning of the summer.

Luc Besson officially opened the Cité du Cinéma complex on the outskirts of Paris on Friday, a decade after he first mooted the ambitious project.

“I’m feeling rather emotional,” Besson told guests at the inauguration ceremony in the vast atrium of the refurbished 1930s electricity plant around which the complex is built.

“This has been a long journey involving the support and efforts of hundreds if not thousands of people, all of whom I would like to thank,” said Besson, who bought the site on which the complex is built in 2006 having used it for the shoots of The Last Combat and Léon in the 1980s and 1990s.

He said on Friday he had been prompted to spearhead the project after being forced to shoot The Fifth Element in Britain in the late 1990s because no suitable facilities existed in France.

It took Besson another four years to find finance for the project. In 2010, state investment fund La Caisse des dépôts et consignations andconstruction company Vinci boarded the project for the refurbishment of the overall site.

The nine stages of the Studios de Paris, at the heart of the cinema complex, are co-owned by Besson’s holding company Frontline, EuropaCorp, the Euro Media Group and the Quinta Group of Tarak Ben Ammar, who was also present at Friday’s inauguration.

The state-of-the-art studios - featuring spacious rigging systems and three-metre deep pits — have been operational since the summer. Taken 2 passed through briefly at the beginning of the summer, followed by Smurfs 2 and French comedy Vingt ans d’ecart (It Boy).

Besson began shooting his Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer-starring mafia comedy Malavita on September 7.

Alongside the studios, the site also houses EuropaCorp’s new headquarters, the prestigious Louis Lumière film school, Besson’s new cinema academy and a branch of his Normandy-based, post-production facility Digital Factory.

There is also office space aimed at independent production and post-production companies. First tenants include the companies of actor-producer Jamel Debbouze and long-time Besson collaborator director-producer Ariel Zeitoun.

The key challenge facing the Studios de Paris is to attract productions from outside the EuropaCorp stable in the face of tough competition from across Europe.

The whole of the French film industry is currently lobbying the government to take the cap off local tax incentives offering a 20% rebate on certain production costs.

At present, international productions can claim back up to €4m ($5.1m) and French productions, €1m ($1.2m).

The impact of this is two-fold: big budget French productions are de-localising to take advantage of more generous tax breaks elsewhere.
For example, an upcoming remake of the 1960s French hit Angélique, to be directed by Cité du Cinéma resident Zeitoun and star Nora Arnezeder and Gérard Lanvin, will be shot in Prague rather than Paris.

US productions continue to favour studios on continental Europe and in the UK where there are better incentives.

“Unless we can convince the government to change the ceiling we are going to continue losing out to more financially competitive options abroad even if the quality of our technicians and facilities is the highest in the world,” said Thierry de Segonzac, president of the technical industries union.

Olivier-René Veillon, executive director of the Ile de France Film Commission, concurred: “I think the ceiling in France needs to lifted completely… we need to be pragmatic like our friends in Britain.”

French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti did not attend Friday’s inauguration ceremony. The move was interpreted by the French press as the left-wing minister distancing herself from a project which had received backing from President Nicolas Sarkozy and his centre-right government prior to the arrival of the Socialists in power in May.

Besson, however, read out a supportive message from the minister in which she promised to visit at a later date. Sources close to the rebate lobbying efforts told Screen that Filippetti’s cabinet had suggested the government was open to a modification of the existing film tax incentives.
In the meantime, the partners of Studios de Paris are busy tapping into their networks to busy promote the facilities at home and abroad.
In early September, Mission Impossible producer Paula Wagner spent a day visiting the studios on route for the Deauville American Film Festival where she was a guest of honour.

“Paula Wagner is one of the few American producers who has worked in all the major facilities across Europe,” commented Veillon, who accompanied Wagner on the tour. “I don’t like to speak on her behalf but she said they were some of the best facilities she had ever visited.”

The inauguration celebrations continue on Friday evening with a VIP dinner in the atrium to be attended by local French stars such as Sophie Marceau, US actress Dianna Agron and Fox Filmed Entertainment chief Jim Gianopulos.