The coastal Normandy town of Deauville kicks off its annual ode to American cinema on Friday as its 46th edition gets under way despite the coronavirus. This year's red carpet may be conspicuously short on Hollywood stars but the fête will be an inclusive one, with some feature-length imports from the cancelled Cannes Film Festival joining the party.
Billing itself as the first important film festival to roll out the red carpet in France since Covid-19 began inflicting collateral damage at the box office and on the festival scene in March, Deauville returns with its Festival du cinéma américain.
Some 70 US films will be screened over the course of the 10-day festival, with 15 features in competition. The slate of contenders, exclusively made up of independent films, includes offerings from seven first-time directors. Eight of the 15 films in competition were directed by women, including Kelly Reichardt's "First Cow" and "Love is Love is Love" by Eleanor Coppola. French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis is president of the jury.
The celebration may be all the more poignant after movie theatres across France weathered a difficult summer virtually devoid of American films as Hollywood studios held back blockbusters to wait out pandemic-related theatre closures in the US.
French moviehouses, which reopened to great fanfare on June 22 after a three-month lockdown hiatus, also count on big US productions to drive their summer box office. Indeed, just last week, Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" finally gave theatre operators cause to rejoice. The thrice-postponed $200-million sci-fi time-bender drew 948,000 spectators in France in the week after its release on August 26, a full 40 percent of all tickets sold. French cinemas saw a 73.8 percent drop in attendance in July compared to the same month last year.
As it stands, only two films contending for Deauville's top prizes already have release dates scheduled in France. Miranda July's "Kajillionaire" hits French cinemas on September 30 followed by Jonathan Nossiter's "Last Words" on October 21.
The 2019 edition of the festival attracted the likes of Johnny Depp, Geena Davis, Kristen Stewart and Pierce Brosnan. But the Hollywood star power will be more subdued on the red carpet this year given coronavirus-related brakes on travel from the US. American director Nossiter, who lives in Italy, and British star Charlotte Rampling will travel to Deauville to present "Last Words", which had also been selected for the Cannes Film Festival.
Indeed, Cannes selections will supply an influx of often home-grown celebrities to Deauville. Nine of the 52 films originally selected for Cannes's 2020 edition, which was cancelled on the Riviera in May, will screen at Deauville, with their stars, like France's Maïwenn, Louis Garrel and Bruno Podalydès, poised to walk the red carpet on France's northern coast instead, 1,100-kilometres northwest of La Croisette.
This Deauville edition has also opened its doors to another disrupted French festival, the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, which went online in June amid the pandemic. Three Annecy selections will be screened in a youth programme at Deauville, including Remi Chayé's "Calamity", about American frontierswoman Calamity Jane, which took Annecy's top prize.
Deauville will pay homage to Kirk Douglas, who died in February at the age of 103, screening 12 of the actor/director/producer/writer's films, from "Out of the Past" (1947) through to "The Final Countdown" (1980). The "Spartacus" legend made two appearances on Deauville's festival boardwalk, in 1979 and 1999.
The northern French festival prides itself on being "the only European festival of this scale to open its doors to the public" and generally welcomes 60,000 people over the course of the event. Organisers this year, however, expect a 30 percent dip in attendance amid Covid-19 restrictions. Masks are mandatory on site and red circles placed on seats will facilitate social distancing inside theatres.
The public health crisis won't be forgotten up in the projection booth, either, with Deauville choosing to screen 14 films featuring healthcare personnel as protagonists in a special programme, including classics such as Robert Altman's "M.A.S.H" (1970) and Penny Marshall's "Awakenings" (1990).
FRANCE 24 is a partner to the 46th edition of the Festival du cinéma américain de Deauville. Stay tuned for special coverage starting Friday as the festivities get underway in Normandy.