In Deauville, French auds really, really love Yankees and their movies

Like French recipes? The Deauville fest — a 10-day feast of made-in-USA movies served with Gallic trimmings — makes mincemeat out of the received wisdom that a place called France dislikes a place called America.

The fest is still chaired by the duo of Andre Halimi and Lionel Chouchan, who started it 32 years ago. (A small club including the indefatigable Michael Kutza in Chicago and Serge Losique in Montreal can make the same claim of constant stewardship.)

Another constant is high quality in a low-pressure, low-key atmosphere. Nobody — from publicists to household names — has ever been heard griping about “having” to attend Deauville.

Director James Ivory, the subject of a retrospective in 2003, explains: “Everyone who goes to Deauville knows exactly why they’re going — and that is because they love American films. All kinds. And often not the kind that would be in competition at Cannes or Venice. So apart from the usual representatives of the town and their wives, for which this is a yearly Big Event, the audience is mostly younger. The whole tone is more youthful.”

That young tone may be helped by the fact that a student day-pass is a mere x12 ($15). An adult day-pass runs $55 and 10-day passes cost $185. Last year, some 1,500 badges were sold, organizers say.

“Most screenings are well-

attended, but we really only ever have to turn people away on the two Saturday nights,” says Jerome Lasserre, head of the Film Dept. for Le Public Systeme, the publicity/events firm that stages Deauville.

“The industry presence is overwhelmingly French, but American industryites do come to meet with their French distributors, and business does get done,” Lasserre says. “Bob Yari was here, for example,” he offers, citing one of the producers of “Crash,” which won the Grand Prix in last year’s competition.

Defiantly proud of what he sees as Deauville’s insistence on making real artistic choices, fest director Bruno Barde chided rivals (without naming names) at the fest’s press conference held in the Normandy resort town two hours by train from Paris.

“In hopes of reviving their former glory,” Barde declares, “some film festivals allot slots with more of an eye to the publicity quotient than to the actual quality of the films in question.”

In addition to the 11-title competition of U.S. indies, Deauville showcases upcoming studio fare. The consistently edgy “Uncle Sam’s Docs” and “Panorama” sidebars give residents of a small French town the chance to see films that, ironically, may never be projected outside major cities in the U.S.

Result? The locals treat fledgling and established indie helmers like movie stars.

Chris Terrio, whose Glenn Close starrer “Heights” played Deauville in 2004, recalls attending a fest-hosted dinner. “All these young fans were waiting outside with photos and autograph pads,” says the helmer-scribe. “I thought they were waiting for Nicole Kidman, but when I got closer I saw that the photos were of Todd Solondz. These kids had trekked out in the middle of the night to get an autographed photo of Todd Solondz!

“At Deauville, the scene is pretty much just movies and the audience,” Terrio concludes. “There’s no sense that you have to go get into the right parties or that you should be meeting a Weinstein. So it’s more fun. And there are mercifully no swag tents where you have to watch actors go humiliate themselves to get a free surfboard or iPod.”

Edward Noeltner, president of Cinema Management Group, which is handling international rights to Rick Trank’s “Ever Again” and to Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s “The Trials of Darryl Hunt” (both slated for the docu sidebar) says Deauville is “the perfect festival to work in collaboration with a French distributor. The selection committee at Deauville is proactive and sales-agent friendly.”

Noeltner adds that Bac Films broadened the fest’s interest in “Ever Again” into a mini-retrospective of Simon Wiesenthal Center-produced features, nine of which, including “The Long Way Home,” will launch in France after the fest.

“The Deauville audience is very cinephile but they are not an easy crowd,” Noeltner says. “You can feel the electricity in the air when a film connects with the audience, and it’s not always a slam-dunk. They are very discerning.”

World preems this fall include Manuel Pradal’s “A Crime” and Tony Goldwyn’s “The Last Kiss,” the Paul Haggis-scripted remake of the 2001 Italian hit, starring Zach Braff. Meryl Streep will be on hand for “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” In a nice coincidence, her “Out of Africa” director, Sydney Pollack, is the subject of an in-person tribute this year.

And 12 films that were developed at Sundance’s workshops commemorate the 25th anniversary of its Filmmakers Lab. Sundance founder Robert Redford sent a note citing the fact that Deauville and Sundance “share the same philosophy.” If not the

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