Arson ends Travolta's attempt to bring hope to ghettoes

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Filming for a new John Travolta movie in a troubled suburb of Paris has been cancelled after ten stunt cars were destroyed by fire.

The production company said that filming in the Les Bosquets estate, starting point for riots in 2005, had been "suspended until tempers cool down".

Local officials said, however, that they believed that four days of filming with the Hollywood actor, due to start yesterday, had been "abandoned" for good.

The movie’s producer, Luc Besson, had chosen to shoot a few sequences of a spy movie, "From Paris with Love" in Les Bosquets as a gesture of solidarity with local people. Nearly 100 people had been given jobs as extras and security guards.

Ten specially equipped cars, assembled for stunt sequences in the movie, were burned by persons unknown late on Sunday night. Local people insisted yesterday that the attack must be the work of "jealous" members of youth gangs from another district. Police said that they were investigating reports of an attempt to demand "protection money" from the production company.

Most people in the Les Bosquets estate at Montfermeil, 10 miles north east of Paris, had welcomed the filming. Moussba Harb, 43, hired as an extra, said that a "childhood dream, a gift from the heavens, has gone up in smoke."

However, tempers have been running high in recent days. M. Besson’s production company, Europacorps, had promised to pay 95 local people Euros 100 a day to work as extras, cooks or security guards.

Some local youths complained that, given the Euros 38m budget for the film, this was a paltry amount. The payments were increased to €200 a day.

According to French press reports, other youths had demanded a more substantial "gesture" from M. Besson, such as the funding of a local cultural centre or concert hall. This was denied yesterday by Europacorps.

The riots which spread through the poor multi-racial suburbs of almost every large town in France three years ago began at the Les Bosquets estate and the nearby La Forestiere estate in Clichy-sous-Bois. Many local people complain that little has been done in the last three years to help the two estates, where unemployment runs at 40 per cent.

Some apartment blocks have been renovated and others demolished but residents complain that they are being forced by higher rents to move to other estates.