Resort draws'em in, keeps'em happy

PARIS — It’s been a difficult year for Franco-American relations, but political schisms and cultural rivalries will likely be forgotten for a few days when Hollywood decamps to the French seaside town of Deauville for the 29th American Festival of Film Sept. 5-14.

Organizers swear the star quotient will be as high as ever, despite post-Iraq jitters over international travel, among other concerns.

Celebs due in town include Harrison Ford, Jessica Lange, Ridley Scott, Charlize Theron, Edward Burns, Renee Zellweger, John Cusack and Mark Wahlberg.

Bigger, more prestigious fests would kill for this lineup. So how exactly does Deauville do it?

There’s the cozy atmosphere.

A fancy resort that has always attracted the rich and famous, Deauville is celeb heaven, from the four-star luxury of the Hotels Normandie and Royale, the fest’s twin hubs, to the town’s array of designer boutiques and renowned seafood restaurants.

But for hounded stars and harried studio execs, the fest’s biggest selling point is the absence of pressure: Deauville is a relaxed, informal affair as there’s no market, almost no international premieres and no hoard of international critics scurrying about.

“This part of France has always had a special relationship with the U.S.,” says fest director Bruno Barde, “so the stars feel welcome when they come here.”

Indeed, Ford professes to “feel at home” at Deauville, while MPAA topper Jack Valenti says the fest’s success comes down to three things: “It is so well managed and superbly done; second, it is one of the most beautiful vistas in Europe; and third, the persuasive qualities of (former town mayor and fest force) Anne D’Ornano.”

There’s the convenience.

Deauville is a short plane hop away from Venice, whose fest dates usually overlap with the seaside resort’s.

There’s the marketing push.

France has long banned film advertising on TV, so for Hollywood execs, Deauville is essential for launching big American movies in Europe, especially France. Last year, Fox Intl. brought “Road to Perdition” and star Tom Hanks with helmer Sam Mendes.

In similar fashion, Warner Bros. will unspool Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men,” and Scott is subject to a (much deserved) career tribute at Deauville as well.

Insiders say that the timing of the fest is particularly fortuitous, as Vencie has recently shed the mantle of the launch pad for big American films, and although stars still make the trek there, studios can shuttle them easily to Deauville from the Lido.The fest is right before the important fall European movie season. Marketeers play the fest’s PR beyond France’s borders, using junkets to tap into media from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe as well.

That’s why B.O. losers in the U.S., like “Hollywood Homicide,” can grab an important berth at Deauville. It’s got a huge star who will do plenty of publicity (Harrison Ford), an upcoming thesp looking for international recognition (Josh Hartnett) and has not been a total critical bomb.

In fact, because these U.S. films don’t have the buzz of blockbuster B.O. behind them, Deauville is especially important for Hollywood marketing execs looking to get the word out.

Plus, since the festival is devoted exclusively to American cinema, there is no danger in Deauville of a bigAmerican film being upstaged by an obscure indie from Tajikistan.

“Other festivals often invite American films and stars to add glitz,” says Barde, “but Deauville’s all about celebrating American cinema in all its forms, the Hollywood studios, indies and experimental. That’s our cause.”

Adds Barde: “At Cannes the stars are 15 kilometers from the Croisette, holed up in the Hotel du Cap, and nobody budges. At Deauville, they go walking in the streets.”

Indeed with so many of them in town the only danger for a celeb in Deauville — but perhaps the most terrifying one — is being overlooked.

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