French hunters take aim at director Besson for shielding deer

Argentan (France) (AFP) –


French film director Luc Besson was taken to court in the northern Normandy region on Monday for refusing to allow hunters onto his land to shoot deer.

Hunters in the Orne area accuse the maker of the "The Fifth Element" and "Nikita" of defying the national hunting plan by allowing deer to multiply on his sprawling estate, damaging the livelihoods of neighbouring farmers.

They are demanding that Besson pay around 130,000 euros (over $145,000) in compensation for the damage caused by the deer -- the amount the local hunters federation say it has had to compensate the farmers since 2014 for failing to keep their numbers down.

Besson, who bought the estate in 1998 and used the red-brick chateau on the land to house a post-production studio, was not in court for the hearing but his wife and daughter were present, an AFP reporter confirmed.

In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper in mid-September, the 60-year-old film-maker accused the hunters of being "out of step with history."

"In the midst of the debate over the environment and biodiversity, which affects the whole world, hunters in the Orne region are asking me to kill deer that pass by my house?! Should I have my children watch from the balcony?" he asked.

The case is the latest to pit French people who move to the countryside, or have second homes there, against rural dwellers who accuse them of failing to respect local customs.

In the most prominent such case recently, the owner of a French rooster named Maurice was taken to court in September by a couple with a holiday home next door over his lusty dawn crowing.

Maurice emerged victorious from the battle waged on the Atlantic island of Oleron, which made headlines worldwide.

- 'Pay the price' -

In the Besson case, the hunters' lawyer Charles Lagier argued that whether the director supported hunting or not was irrelevant.

"He doesn't hunt. Fair enough, we're in a democracy, that's his right. But either he accepts the (national) hunting plan, or he pays the price," Lagier told the court on Monday.

Besson's property is part of the huge Saint-Evroult forest situated outside La-Trinite-des-Laitiers, two hours west of Paris.

In 2016, local authorities ordered measures to try scare some of the deer off Besson's land, citing the damage caused to surrounding farms and the threat to passing motorists of crossing deer.

But they also ruled that the 300 deer counted on both Besson's land and the wider Saint-Evroult forest were not excessive.

Local farmers have collected evidence of the damage caused to cornfields by deer straying from Besson's estate.

The director's lawyer Jean-Marc Descoubes argued that the hunters had failed to prove that it was the deer on his land that were causing the damage.