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Look out for an indie title wave

Lange, HBO Films to be feted

PARIS — There will be stars and shiny new studio product as usual, but independent productions will fill more than half the slots at the 29th Deauville fest.

In his fourth year programming an event whose raison d’etre is curiosity about and enthusiasm for American movies, pic picker Jerome Lasserre says he’s gone all out to select films that haven’t been widely shown.

In addition to welcoming helmers Ridley Scott and James Ivory for mini-retrospectives, Lasserre is honoring HBO Films and thesp Jessica Lange.

“HBO consistently reveals talent and is less likely to play it safe,” says Lasserre, who sifts through hundreds of movies in the course of the year. “They back the kinds of stories I like, which are grounded in real life and dare to critique society at the same time they entertain.”

Lasserre hastens to add that the tribute was in the works well before Gus Van Sant’s HBO-produced “Elephant” won the Cannes fest’s Palme d’Or.

While Deauville has no market, no commercial or critical pressure, Lasserre sees the fest more and more as a setting in which Gallic distribs that are considering a given title resolve to seal the deal.

” ‘Secretary’ and ‘The Good Girl’ were both picked up for France after they showed in competition last year,” he says, adding that even for the bigger Hollywood titles, audience response is invaluable in fine-tuning release strategies.

“Execs and publicists may have seen an industry screening before they come to Deauville,” says Lasserre, “but the degree of laughter or applause is a very useful guide.”

With its perfect sightlines and heartily proportioned screen, the comfort and technical excellence of the fest’s main auditorium can’t be overstated.

Indeed, anyone who’s just flown in from Venice is also gratified by the topnotch screening conditions in the fest’s main auditorium — in contrast with the former event’s less pristine facilities.

You can get any kind of movie you want in Deauville — so long as it’s American. The exception is the Prix Michel D’Ornano, a cash award from the Motion Picture Assn. that prexy-CEO Jack Valenti bestows in person, to help promote a French film from a first-time writer-director.

This year’s winner is “Depuis qu’Otar est parti” (Since Otar Left) helmed by Julie Bertuccelli, who co-wrote the screenplay with Bernard Renucci.

Another juried award determined prior to the fest is Deauville’s literary kudo, which was established in 1976 to honor French or American authors who take some aspect of American life as their topic. Following in the footsteps of storytellers from Patricia Highsmith to Elie Weisel, this year’s nod goes to Douglas Kennedy for “Losing It,” the tale of a screenwriter whose abrupt success is a mixed blessing.

Although cash-strapped Canal Plus was unable to renew its generous sponsorship of the short-film competition, Lasserre was adamant about continuing the section. Eclair Labs has ponied up for subtitles.

Another change is the Franco-European dimension of the 10-person jury, which has previously been almost entirely French.