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Halle Berry Honored at Paris’ Champs Elysees Fest

Fest consolidating as a French springboard for U.S. movies

If Halle Berry feels like catching up on U.S. cinema, she’ll never get a better chance than next month in Paris.

The 2nd Champs Elysees Film Festival’s guest of honor, Berry will be in Paris for an event, unspooling June 12-18, that is consolidating as both a smorgasbord of titles by up-and-coming American helmers, and a commercial springboard for more major U.S. premieres in France from the likes of Richard Linklater and Barry Levinson.

Brad Pitt will receive a retrospective as part of the build up to the release in Gaul of “World War Z.” Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud will present Universal/Illumination’s “Despicable Me 2.”

French actress-producer Julie Gayet (“My Best Friend,” “Quai d’Orsay”) joins Gallic actor Olivier Martinez (“Taking Lives”) as the Champs Elysees fest presidents.

Two nations promote their national cinemas with unrelenting conviction: the U.S. and France. When a French festival promotes U.S. cinema, it — maybe inevitably — focuses on auteurs.

It is this strong individual voice, after all, that the French so admire in directors who have worked within the studio system, such as Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese.

A nine-title official competition frames new U.S. talent to track, with an Audience Award as the prize.

Debuts include the kid-centered, mortality-themed “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” a Tribeca Fest player from Daniel Patrick Carbone; Rotterdam screener “It Felt Like Love,” Eliza Hittman’s coming-of-age tale of sexual naivety; juvenile reform facility-set “Coldwater,” from producer-turned-director Vincent Grashaw, admired at South by Southwest (SXSW); and Stuart Blumberg’s sex addiction dramedy “Thanks for Sharing,” a Lionsgate/Roadside U.S. pick-up.

Boasting the biggest cast of any debut, “Decoding Annie Parker” toplines Maggie Grace, Helen Hunt and Samantha Morton in the story of a woman’s fight against breast cancer.

Potential competition highlights include Travis Fine’s ‘70s-set “Any Day Now,” with Alan Cumming as a cross-dresser attempting to adopt a Down syndrome child.

Matthew Cooke will present the ironic DIY guide, “How To Make Money Selling Drugs”; Jocelyn Towne delivers “I Am I,” the Kickstarter-funded daughter-father reconciliation drama; and Canadian Sean Garrity unveils “Blood Pressure,” about a woman’s reaction to neglect.

Following Harvey Weinstein, who received a career tribute at fest’s inaugural edition and used the occasion to praise France’s anti-piracy initiatives, 2013’s industry guest of honor will be Jean-Francois Camilleri, prexy of The Walt Disney Company France.

Building on its first event, the Champs Elysees Fest has created a new Master Class strand: U.S. documentarian Frederick Wiseman will attend a Q & A; and French helmer Cedric Klapisch (“The Spanish Apartment”) will talk audiences through his upcoming “Chinese Puzzle” with Audrey Tautou.

Also screening shorts from France’s Femis film school and the American Film Institute, Columbia University, USC and NYU Tisch, Champs Elysees opens with Brian Dannelly’s “Struck by Lightning,” written, produced by and starring Chris Colfer. It closes with Voltage Pictures’ self-discovery dramedy “Girl Most Likely” (a.k.a. “Imogene”), Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s fourth feature.

The 18-title U.S premiere section also features Noah Baumbach’s well-reviewed “Frances Ha,” produced by Scott Rudin, Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” Allen Hughes’ Fox-released “Broken City,” Oren Moverman’s “Rampart” and Levinson’s disaster thriller “The Bay.”

Given the large influx of U.S. talent, led by Berry, Colfer and “Girl” leads Kristen Wiig and Darren Criss, the growing interest of French companies in English-language production and of U.S. filmmakers in exploring European co-funding, Champs Elysees looks like becoming an inevitable networking platform for U.S. and French industries.

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