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Deauville fights for place in glitterati’s sun

Fall Fest Preview 2012

With film festivals mushrooming around the world, drawing A-list talent and pulling off premieres of the more high-profile pics has proved more challenging than ever for most fest toppers. The Deauville American Film Festival, headed by vet publicist Bruno Barde for 17 years, is no exception.

“With the day-and-date distribution model gaining ground, actors and directors are often sent on a promotional marathon, which leaves no time for festivals like Deauville,” Barde says. “That’s a shame because film critics tend to be friendlier at Deauville than, let’s say, Cannes.”

Scheduled in early September, running simultaneously with Venice and just before Toronto, the Normandy-set fest — which plays between 70 and 80 U.S. pics ranging from indies to studio fare — has had to reinvent itself.

Once known for attracting such Hollywood heavyweights as Steven Spielberg, George Clooney and Harrison Ford over the past two decades, Deauville launched a TV sidebar in 2010, which fortified the fest, bringing top-level French and American filmmakers and screenwriters.

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Then last year, it created the Film Corner, a modest-sized professional hub where sales agents, producers and distributors gathered to brainstorm, notably during a panel discussion hosted by the PGA and the APC (French producers guild).

This initiative has attracted more film industryites and helped Matthew Gordon’s “The Dynamiter,” winner of the 2011 jury prize, get picked up by French distributor KMBO.

While the biz is still affected by the economic downturn, this year’s fest will up the ante with a star-packed red carpet: Jeremy Renner, Frank Langella, Rachel Weisz, Luc Besson, Harvey Keitel, Salma Hayek, Liam Neeson, William Friedkin and Paula Wagner are all slated to attend.

The competition lineup boasts 14 independently produced pics, including Langella starrer “Robot & Frank,” Craig Zobel’s “Compliance” and Michel Gondry’s “The We and the I.”

Four competition titles are still up for grabs in Gaul: Matt Ruskin’s debut “Booster”; Marshall Lewy’s “California Solo”; Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky’s “Francine” starring Melissa Leo; and Lucy Mulloy’s “Una noche.”

Most buyers, however, agree that Deauville’s main weakness is the near-absence of preems: many films have played at Sundance, Toronto and/or Cannes. Given the fierce competition that Gallic distributors face to acquire high-profile U.S. indies, by the time Deauville kicks off, the cream of the crop has already been skimmed off, says an insider.

As Barde points out, “The best of American independent cinema goes to Sundance, so I go to Sundance. Most Deauville guests are French and European, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to say no to films because they’ve opened at Sundance.”

Indeed, per Adeline Monzier, founder of Europa Distribution, a network gathering 120 indie distribs, and co-founder of the mini-mart U.S. in Progress, Deauville still has a lot to offer to many European buyers since “a number of small- and medium-size outfits have stopped going to Sundance because of the cost.”

And for pure-play indies, a Deauville competition slot and a nod can help propel solid box office.

A recent example is helmer Tony Kaye’s Adrien Brody starrer “Detachment,” a Pretty Pictures release that won two prizes at Deauville and went on to gross €139,040 ($171,107) from 220,000 tickets at the Gallic B.O.

“The Deauville exposure and the wins really launched the career of the film,” says Pretty Pictures topper James Velaise. “We were able to balance the books on the (minimum guarantee) and p&a just from the theatrical box office, which is excellent and very rare nowadays.”

This year, Pretty Pictures has “Compliance” in competition and will roll out the pic in theaters Sept. 26.

Deauville runs Aug. 31-Sept. 9.

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