2006 Deauville Film Festival

The annual event continues to spotlight the best and brightest in American independent moviemaking.

There were two Stones on a beach in Normandy. That might sound like the start of an elaborate Gallic joke, but when the Stones in question go by the names Oliver and Sharon, you know you're talking movies. The director of "World Trade Center" and the star of Emilio Estevez's "Bobby," respectively, are among the headline talent expected to attend the 32nd annual Deauville Festival of American Film, set to kick off Friday and conclude Sept. 10.

This annual U.S. invasion of Normandy's beaches gets under way in the chic coastal resort with a premiere screening of the turn-of-the-20th-century Viennese melodrama "The Illusionist," directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, who is expected in town for the screening.

Deauville organizers have marshaled an impressive lineup of major Hollywood pictures this year, enticing many of the U.S. movies making world or European premieres at the Venice Film Festival to make a short hop to France. Studios anticipate realizing the utility of following an international media jamboree in Venice with a major Gallic junket a day or two later -- a sort of pasta main course, with calvados for a digestif.

Aside from "WTC" and "Bobby," Venice transfers include Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia," with the director, stars Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart and author James Ellroy due in town, and Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain." In addition to presenting his movie, Aronofsky is set to give a Sept. 8 master class in filmmaking.

Also flying in from the Lido are Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci, slated to accompany David Frankel's "The Devil Wears Prada" for its French premiere. Streep will pull double duty as she also is set to talk up Robert Altman's radio-show movie "A Prairie Home Companion," underlining Deauville's role as a promotional platform for studio pictures and indie productions alike.

"It's a great opportunity for us," says Jean Labadie, head of Gallic distributor Bac Films, which is set to release "Companion" in France. "Meryl Streep doesn't come to France often, and she'll be able do some promotion for us as well as for 'Prada.'"

Bac also is the French distributor on Paul Crowder and John Dower's soccer documentary "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos," set to screen in Deauville, and a series of films produced by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Other titles in the Premieres section include the world premiere of Tony Goldwyn's "The Last Kiss" -- a Paul Haggis-scripted remake of Gabriele Muccino's 2001 dramedy "L'Ultimo Bacio" -- and the world premiere of Manuel Pradal's thriller "A Crime," starring Harvey Keitel and Emmanuelle Beart, as well as screenings of Sidney Lumet's courtroom dramedy "Find Me Guilty" and Ivan Reitman's Uma Thurman starrer "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," with the latter set to close the festival.

"If you use Deauville well, you can create a good event around a film," says Jean-Francois Camilleri, head of Buena Vista International France, which launched "Cinderella Man" in that territory during last year's festival. "You can screen movies in very good circumstances in Deauville's 1,500-seat modern theater, which allows you to gauge reaction. It can be good for the late-summer releases in the U.S. but is more suited to the films that will roll out in the month (leading) up to the Halloween holiday."

This year's Deauville festival will be notable for its expanded competition section for independent American cinema, with 11 rather than the customary 10 films unspooling.

"I found that this year, the competition is it a very high level," festival director Bruno Barde says. "We saw a lot of strong films, so I think it's a tribute to all the cineastes that this year there are 11 films."

In keeping with another of Deauville's roles -- to bring fresh filmmaking talent to a wider audience -- eight of those titles are from first-time directors: Dito Montiel's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," for which producers Sting and Trudie Styler are due in town; Jason Reitman's "Thank You for Smoking"; Laurie Collyer's "Sherrybaby"; Paul Fitzgerald's "Forgiven"; David Slade's "Hard Candy"; Billy Kent's "The OH in Ohio"; Ryan Fleck's "Half Nelson," and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine." The competition is rounded out by Hilary Brougher's "Stephanie Daley," Michael Cuesta's "12 and Holding" and Todd Field's "Little Children," for which the director is returning to Deauville after bringing "In the Bedroom" to the festival in 2001.

The dominance of debut efforts was a deliberate choice on the part of competition selectors.

"I think today, when cinema is not always the image of reference -- which is often television, Internet and even mobile -- I want to defend the cinematic image as a reference," Barde says. "I often detect that in a first film because first-time directors usually have something to say and an interesting way to say it, and that's what I want to show at Deauville."

Although more than a dozen titles across the Deauville lineup already unspooled in January in Park City, Barde brushes off the suggestion that his Normandy competition is a sort-of "Sundance lite."

"Who has seen the films at Sundance?" he asks. "Practically no one outside the United States. It would be very arrogant to say, 'I'm not screening a movie because it was at Sundance.' I don't care about where a film has screened before; I take all the American films that I think are worthy."

Barde argues that with so many forms of media competing for attention, it is important for festivals like Deauville to provide an outlet for movies that otherwise might get lost in the shuffle.

"I think we're living in an age where if we don't defend cinema, it'll disappear in its current form," he says. "The only way to defend cinema is to encourage spectators to enjoy it -- and for them to like films, you first have to screen them."

This year's competition is notable for including several films with a comic sensibility, including "OH," "Smoking" and "Sunshine."

"They are some very tough films but also some lighter ones, so the competition is perhaps a bit less austere than usual," Barde says.

Deauville's only tribute this year will honor the career of Sydney Pollack, including a retrospective of his films up to the recently released documentary "Sketches of Frank Gehry."

Elsewhere, Deauville's 3-year-old documentary section has expanded to accommodate a genre that has become especially prominent of late.

"The first year, we had seven or eight films; now, there are 12 or 13, and it's getting more interesting," Barde says. "It's no accident if people like Jonathan Demme ('Neil Young: Heart of Gold') are making documentaries. I think the genre is filling a place today in the cinematic universe which has been left vacant by conventional fiction cinema."

Several Sundance standouts populate the documentary section, including Davis Guggenheim's global-warming film "An Inconvenient Truth," for which former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is set to travel to Normandy. Other docus set to unspool are Jasmine Dellal's Gypsy music film "When the Road Bends ...," James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" and Chris Paine's "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Deauville also boasts an impressive track record in bringing talent to audience attention in France well ahead of the curve. Buyer activity traditionally remains low-key, primarily because most in the marketplace have sized up projects well ahead of their Deauville screenings, but this year's competition includes six films that have not yet found Gallic distribution.

Labadie notes that the festival lineup could include a yet-unsold discovery like 2005's Oscar-nominated "Transamerica," which he purchased for Bac in January.

One thing on which everyone agrees is the Deauville "relax factor."

"It's near Paris, it's a very agreeable environment, and there's no craziness like you get in Cannes," one Paris-based studio representative says. "The U.S. talent loves going there."

Adds Ruda Dauphin, the festival's New York-based representative: "There are no films over lunchtime; it's very civilized. You can go eat your mussels in town -- you have time. We might have a crush for a premiere, but never anything like Cannes or Venice. And we have a real beach, not little ones like Cannes."