French filmmaker-producer Luc Besson is having a tumultuous summer. He’s facing rape allegations, EuropaCorp is going through a rough financial patch, and now his film school, l’Ecole de la Cite, is losing a number of its private backers and could shut down by the end of the year.
The school, which Besson launched in 2012 as an accessible alternative to the prestigious La Femis school, is free for students and operates with a budget of about €1.4 million ($1.6 million). It has been mostly financed by donations from sponsors including luxury brand Kering, TF1, Gaumont, Canal Plus and Transpalux. The school also receives public funds from the National Film Board (CNC) and the Ile de France region, but these subsidies don’t exceed €400,000 in total.
A spokesperson for EuropaCorp told Variety that the bulk of the school’s private partners will no longer support the academy during the coming year for financial reasons. Meanwhile, Pathé, Gaumont, and M6 stopped backing the school a while ago, according to French news outlet BFMTV. Over the last five years, the financial contributions from private companies has plummeted from €1.82 million in 2012 to €179,660 in 2017, according to the school’s financial documents.
Requests for comment from Gaumont, Canal Plus and Transpalux were not returned.
“We are actively looking for other partners to help us fund the school and keep it alive,” the EuropaCorp spokesperson said. “We’re also exploring other options such as relocating the school to cut costs.”
Since 2012, the school has been housed at La Cite du Cinema, France’s 120,000-square-foot studio complex where EuropaCorp also has its headquarters. La Cite du Cinema is mainly owned by Nef Lumiere, of which 75% is retained by the state-backed Caisse des Depots et Consignations (Deposits and Consignments Fund) and 25% belongs to Vinci Group, a privately owned French concessions and construction company. While funding for the school has dropped dramatically, the school’s rent at La Cité du Cinema has skyrocketed from €400,000 in 2012 to approximately €2 million in 2017, according to the school’s financial report.
L’Ecole de la Cité has about 60 students enrolled for a two-year program, some of whom have expressed their dismay on social media over the news that the school could close in the coming months. While the school could potentially relocate, its director has stepped down and the staff of about 10 employees has been laid off, according to BFMTV.
The school was conceived by Besson to welcome aspiring directors and screenwriters who may not fit the strict academic requirements of schools like La Femis. It puts an emphasis on hands-on teaching delivered by film professionals, including Besson himself.
EuropaCorp recently posted its financial results for the fiscal year that ended in March, showing a net loss of €82.5 million ($96.5 million) and debt estimated at €230 million ($269 million). Besson’s upcoming thriller, “Anna,” is expected to be released later this year.