HOLLYWOOD — It’s a safe bet that when the inaugural Deauville festival was held in 1975, its all-American lineup was largely inspired by the kinds of movies being backed and distributed by Paramount under then-production chief Robert Evans. “Nashville,” a Paramount release considered by many to be Robert Altman’s masterpiece, was among the offerings that launched Deauville. Just prior, however, the studio, which Evans helped boost from last to first in market share, experienced a watershed year.
In 1975, the star-spangled mountain distributed three of the five films nominated for the picture Oscar, including the Evans-produced “Chinatown” and eventual winner, “The Godfather Part II.” All told, Par racked up 39 Oscar nominations for 10 films that year, an almost unheard of accomplishment that might never be equaled.
Say what you will about Evans — who’s been lionized as a latter-day Irving Thalberg and viewed skeptically as a self-deluded narcissist — but he relied on the kind of instinct, passion and risk-taking that has become largely extinct in today’s conglom environment. When the Deauville Festival of American Film honors Evans with a tribute Sept. 5, another gambler, deposed founder of Canal Plus Pierre Lescure, will make the introduction.
The highly subjective documentary of Evans’ Hollywood career, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” will be shown as part of the event, while a collection of his more motley producer credits, including “Chinatown” sequel “The Two Jakes,” “Sliver,” “Jade” and “The Saint,” will screen as part of the tribute. Programmer Jerome Lasserre says he tried to secure other titles, including 1980 hit “Urban Cowboy,” as well as some of those he greenlit at Paramount during the late ’60s and early ’70s, but the effort proved more difficult than he anticipated.
Meanwhile, Evans — whose likeness has been featured in every magazine and newspaper from L.A. to Nova Scotia in conjunction with the documentary, co-directed by Brett Morgan and Nanette Burnstein — has retired temporarily from the marathon interview rounds. But he will be there Sept. 5. After all, like all Hollywood icons addicted to the spotlight, the former pretty-boy actor will be ready for his close-up.