Deauville draws studio, indie fare

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No longer just a parade of Hollywood summer studio hits traditionally released in France in the early fall, the 33rd Deauville Festival of American Film has become a potpourri of every facet of U.S. cinema. Beginning Friday and running through Sept. 9, Americans will once again storm the Normandy beaches, and big-budget blockbusters and auteur flicks will march side by side as major Hollywood stars, industry vets and a film-loving public sip Calvados and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in the idyllic seaside town.

"I do everything possible to associate Deauville with all forms of American cinema," fest director Bruno Barde explains. "We've really tried to create a balance. It's the festival for all modes of cinematographic production."

Europe's only major festival dedicated exclusively to U.S. films will give the French a taste of transatlantic titles crossing all genres, from studio animation like Disney's "Meet the Robinsons" and Sony's "Surf's Up" to crowd-pleasing, big-budget productions like Universal Pictures' "Knocked Up" and Paramount Pictures' "Stardust" to indie fare such as Magnolia Pictures' "Broken English" and First Look International's "Smiley Face."

In recent years, global fears of piracy have spurred a boom in international day-and-date releases, sending more commercial Hollywood films to French screens early in the summer and thus leaving room for more art house fare in the Deauville lineup.

"Deauville is no longer just a launchpad for the big summer blockbusters," says Gaumont topper Francois Clerc. "Now that all markets can release films at the same time, it's leaving more room for independent movies."

Yet such date shifts haven't completely changed the dynamic of the Deauville fest, which continues to attract significant Hollywood productions and the talent.

"Day-and-date releases don't bother me," Barde declares. "The fact that a lot of the big U.S. blockbusters now come out in the summer in France hasn't changed anything. I don't have ('Live Free or Die Hard'), but I have 'The Bourne Ultimatum.' I don't have one, so I have another. American cinema is so rich that there's always something to replace what is lost to day-and-date summer releases."

"Deauville has always tried to be very eclectic. It's always wanted to be a sort of reflection of all forms of American cinema," adds Henri Ernst, head of marketing at Gallic distributor TFM, which will be bringing a variety of titles to town, including the horror flick "1408," starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson; the Weinstein Co.'s Sundance winners "Teeth" and "Grace Is Gone"; and last year's divisive Toronto International Film Festival title "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane." "If the festival has changed, it's because (it's) a festival that's constantly in movement and that's great."

The fest has evolved considerably since Andre Halimi and Lionel Chouchandrew inaugurated the event in 1974. This year's American Nights sidebar, for instance, will screen classic American movies all day, every day throughout the fest's 10-day run, making Deauville the first festival in the world to offer such a daring nonstop screening program. Organizers are hoping such events will promote a return to screenings in traditional movie theaters as DVD, television, mobile and VOD technology continues to threaten the medium.

"A movie theater is like a sanctuary," Barde explains. "When you walk into a church or a synagogue, even if you're not religious, you feel something very strong. In the darkness of the theater, there's a moment before the movie starts that's magic. We can't leave movie theaters, because the beauty of the films is there."

The fest is also a launchpad for both smaller U.S. productions still in search of a French distributor, such as HBO/Picturehouse's "Rocket Science," Myriad Pictures' "Factory Girl," Odd Lot International's "Ira & Abby" and HDNet Films' "Fay Grim." With the creme de la creme of international press in town, Deauville can also get people talking about bigger movies not yet released in the territory -- or even those with U.S. release dates later in the year.

"Deauville is important because it can create a real buzz around a film," says Ernst.

Odd Lot is seeking a French distributor for its indie romantic comedy "Ira & Abby," screening in competition. "'Ira & Abby' is one of the real potential breakout movies than can benefit from Deauville. It has that 'little engine that could' possibility," says Brian O'Shea, executive vp worldwide sales and distribution at Odd Lot. "Deauville is very important because it's respected internationally as a serious festival, and from a direct business standpoint, buyers from France can see independent films like 'Ira & Abby' screened theatrically with the same audiences that would see bigger studio films there."

Many films in selection will also be making the jump from Venice and Toronto, but organizers don't seem to be too worried about the impending threat of the simultaneous fests.

"Venice is an international festival -- Deauville is just for American cinema," says Barde. "So what if we have five of the same films as them? It would be so arrogant to have the pride to say it's with me and nowhere else. The more big festivals there are, the more people learn to appreciate movies."

TFM's Ernst agrees: "Deauville is complementary to, not competitive with, the other festivals going on at the same time."

Yet these "complementary" international film festivals increasingly attract A-list stars. So how does Deauville continue to reel in celebs and glam despite the other major fests going on around the same time?

"It's a nice, warm festival," says Kirk D'Amico, president and CEO of Myriad Pictures. "It's a very supportive place. The festival is glad to have the films there and glad to have the talent there. Not to mention that it's on the beach and it's in France, where the food is delicious, the wine is spectacular and the weather's great."

"If Americans come often to Deauville, it's because there's a professional pressure, but without all of the inconveniences. It's more relaxed here," adds Barde. 
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