American films shown 'round the clock

PARIS – It’s possible to gamble into the wee hours at the Deauville casino, but if your vice is cinema, this year the Normandy resort that hosts the American Film Festival is the place to test whether moderation is all it’s cracked up to be.

New York may be famous as the city that never sleeps, but from Aug. 31 through Sept. 9, Deauville will become the town that never stops projecting movies as a succession of 60 American classics, semiclassics and oddities from the silent era through 2006’s “Shortbus” are shown around-the-clock — literally.

“We want to inspire younger people to watch American genre classics and rarities as they were meant to be seen for a price anybody can afford,” co-programmer Jerome Lasserre says.

International pundits can debate American power and prestige, but one fact is more black and white than a restored print of “Citizen Kane”: Over the past decade, the U.S. dollar has lost nearly 30% of its value against the euro. Even so, the “American Nights” sidebar is still a steal at x10 ($14) for 10 days.

The lineup, programmed with the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, falls into broad categories: Westerns (starting with 1917’s “The Narrow Trail”); gangster pics and film noir; sci-fi and horror; and comedies. The conjuncture means attendees can see James Whale’s 1931 “Frankenstein” as well as Mel Brooks’ 1974 “Young Frankenstein.”

Not many localities with a year-round population of 4,300 can boast a decent print of the Mitchell Bros.’ “Behind the Green Door” or Russ Meyer’s “Supervixens.” The sprocket-a-thon will commandeer the Morny, a cozy neighborhood hardtop otherwise dedicated to mainstream releases, including kiddie fare.

“Our year-round vocation at Le Public Systeme Cinema is to spread and reinforce awareness of film in all its glory, which we do via the six film festivals we program and administrate,” says fest director Bruno Barde. “Making worthwhile American movies available around the clock seemed like a natural extension, if only for those

10 days. Whatever the time of day or night, nobody need suffer through the mediocrity of what’s on TV.”

Le Public Systeme will shoulder the full cost of a relay of projectionists and security staff as well as personnel to hoist hundreds of film cans on and off the premises and even a special cooling system for the projection booth in view of such intensive use.

With “American Nights” humming in the background, the fest will continue its tradition of high-profile premieres, tributes and docs along with the juried competition.

Honoree Michael Douglas, who toplines fest opener “King of California,” has a special place in his heart for Deauville where he and Catherine Zeta-Jones met for the very first time. She was tubthumping (in 1998) for “The Mask of Zorro” and a thoughtful Warner Bros. staffer seated the future couple together at a fest dinner. Douglas’ father, Kirk, is a past winner of Deauville’s literary award, for the French translation of his memoirs.

This year, the lit prize goes to novelist and wine maven Jay McInerney for “The Good Life.”

Prolific vet Sidney Lumet, who made his helming debut with 1957’s “Twelve Angry Men,” will present the world preem of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” as part of a tribute and partial retrospective.

French-speaking fest honoree Sigourney Weaver pretty much invented the female action hero with her role as Ripley in “Alien” and its sequels. Weaver would probably have gotten along like a space vessel on fire with Ida Lupino, who will be the subject of a posthumous tribute. Actress, screenwriter, producer and director Lupino, who died in 1995, dared to tackle then-dicey topics when she stepped behind the camera nearly 60 years ago in an American film landscape where a one-armed man would have no trouble counting women directors on his fingers.

Deauville remains firmly committed to the magic of a projector bulb shining through a strip of celluloid; just three titles will enjoy digital projection: Ben Affleck’s world preem entry “Gone Baby Gone”; Stephen J. Anderson’s “Meet the Robinsons”; and “Surf’s Up,” by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck.

Festgoers watched CNN Intl.’s coverage of the harrowing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exactly two years ago. This year the Uncle Sam’s Docs sidebar will give Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” the bigscreen treatment.

“Fiction is just a rough draft of reality — although the most talented directors get at the truth through their storytelling — whereas documentary glides right up to the truth by weeding out fiction,” Barde says. Some practitioners of the helming craft might be surprised to hear it, but Barde firmly believes, “Filmmakers share a trait with angels. They’re always in search of truth.”

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