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Beach party

Packed sked, plenty of VIPs converge at Normandy fest

PARIS – Le Public Systeme, the PR firm whose film division runs the Deauville Festival of American Cinema, has some pretty good references: “A branch of this company organized the pope’s last visit to Paris,” says Bruno Barde, the fest’s topper since 1995.

Deauville’s 26th edition (Sept. 1-10) may not host any guests quite so high profile as the pontiff, but Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford and Susan Sarandon — just three of the 50-plus celebs slated to attend — are revered in many households.

“Some people used to mistake us for a big, shiny showcase for the majors and nothing more, but that’s simply not true,” says Barde.

According to Barde, film professionals used to make a point of coming on the fest’s opening and closing weekends, where the biggest events were clustered, leaving the weekdays in between with little pizzazz.

“You can’t land three big movies and three stars and call it a festival,” says Barde. “So we instituted the Competition five years ago, organized the Panorama to give festgoers an overview of recent American films — including documentaries — and we started the short-film competition.”

Naysayers murmured in the early 1990s that Deauville’s days were numbered, but today the fest’s obvious popularity with studios and indies alike indicates a rosy future.

Says Barde, “We’re showing 40-some movies in 10 days –that’s a far from negligible.”

Past editions focused on one high-profile studio premiere per evening; this year, there will be two, at 6 and 8:30.

And Barde isn’t worried about the other overlapping film fests that share some of Deauville’s talent and titles. “The proximity of Venice and Toronto doesn’t bother me at all,” he says. “They’re international in scope. Our theme is American movies.”

New programmer Jerome Lasserre took over the crucial post of pic picker after last year’s 25th anniversary edition, when Daniel Benzakein stepped down after 11 years.

“I know Bruno and Daniel joked that they might not even be able to secure 10 films when they started the Deauville Competition in 1995, but now the Americans come to us,” says Lasserre, who spent seven years with distribbery Polygram, followed by four years at global sales company Flach-Pyramide before joining Le Public Systeme. “I saw a lot of American films this year, at markets and via submissions, and the level strikes me as pretty high. I’m really happy with the lineup we’re offering.”

For the third annual short-film contest, Lasserre adds, “I screened over 100 shorts and had a hard time narrowing the field down to just eight. The feature filmmakers of tomorrow may be making shorts today. What better place to look for the next Lucas or Spielberg?”

Barde reminds that “all of the American films in the official selection at Cannes this year were by filmmakers with a strong Deauville connection: Amos Kollek (“Fast Food, Fast Women) showed ‘Sue’ and ‘Fiona’ in Competition here; James Gray (“The Yards”) showed ‘Little Odessa,’ Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”) competed with ‘Pi,’ Neil LaBute (“Nurse Betty”) won a Deauville prize with ‘In the Company of Men,’ Ang Lee (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) came several times, including the world preem of ‘Ride With the Devil,’ the Coen brothers (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) showed ‘Blood Simple’ when the fest was just a few years old.”

Composing the jury provides a perfect opportunity to include some French celebs in the otherwise Yank-o-centric event. This year’s lineup is particularly strong. Jury prez Neil Jordan — a French-speaking Irishman — will be joined by fellow helmers Francois Ozon and Arturo Ripstein; thesps Vincent Perez, Marie Trintignant, Samuel Le Bihan, Guillaume Canet, Tcheky Karyo and Clotilde Courau; author Philippe Labro; and vet screenwriter Daniele Thompson.

With such a high quotient of VIPs to put up in the Normandy coastal resort town, the fest has been reliant upon the combined generosity of the city of Deauville and the Lucien Barriere Group of luxury hotels. But as the fest’s success and attendance have stretched its budget to the limit, there’s an increased focus on strategic partnerships with sponsors.

“We have a budget problem,” says Barde, “but we’d never take a firm’s money, slap their name on the poster and leave it at that — there has to be a natural affinity between the product and the idea of movies.”

To that end, Canal Plus’ Studio Canal imprint is on board for the first time this year and will produce exclusive theme programming for its satellite subscribers.

If this year’s fest follows in the tradition of its last few outings, there will be plenty to cover.

“Deauville lends itself to meeting,” notes Barde. Not “meetings” but meeting, as in getting acquainted. “The public meets the stars — fans can watch photo sessions and attend the press conferences if there’s room — and filmmakers meet each other.”

Barde points out that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones met for the very first time at Deauville two years ago, when he was an honoree and she was on hand to promote “The Mask of Zorro.”

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