Inside the Deauville American Film Festival

by Alice White Walker
a sihouette of an actress walking the red carpet

With its premiere in 1975, the famed Deauville American Film Festival set the stage for showcasing the best of American cinema –  from Hollywood blockbusters to independent films – with a spotlight on emerging talent. 

On the occasion of the 46th ceremony, held from September 4 to 13, 2020, writer Kasia Dietz takes us on a journey of the Deauville American Film Festival.

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The Deauville American Film Festival attracts key players in the world of cinema. For 10 glamorous days every September, world-renowned celebrities make their way to the red carpet and the much-adored seaside town of Deauville becomes its own version of Hollywood.

Responsible for the popular annual event’s inception are Lionel Chouchan – a French writer and advertising professional – and André Halimi – a French television journalist and producer who recognized the value of bringing both large and small American film productions to a French audience. But it wasn’t until Michel d’Ornano,  Deauville’s mayor, took an active interest in supporting their initiative (along with Groupe Barrière, leaders in casinos and luxury hotels throughout France), that the film festival was born. 

a woman on the red carpet with crowds behind her

Salma Hayek at Deauville

Fittingly, the setting for the festival became the fashionable French resort town of Deauville, often referred to as the 21st arrondissement of Paris for the number of Parisians who frequent this Normandy locale. Originally meant to be a form of entertainment and occasion where Parisians could fraternize with international celebrities, the festival later decided to award prizes. 

In 1995, this began for feature films, and  in1998, for short films, with all nominations overseen by a French jury presided by the grande dame du cinéma français, herself – Catherine Deneuve. The highest award was titled the Prix du jury spécial Deauville (“Special Deauville Jury Award”), with other notable awards being the Prix spécial du jury du cinéma indépendant américain (“Special Jury Award of American Independent Film”), the Deauville Audience Award, the International Critics Award and the Revelation Prize. 

An award for the best American-themed book, The Lucien Barrière Literary Prize, was also created. The first winner was crowned in 1976 – French writer and publisher Yves Berger for his book Le Fou d’Amérique (“The fool of America”). In recent years, Deauville’s Hollywood Rising Star Award was offered to actors including Ryan Gosling, Jessica Chastain and Elle Fanning. Actress Sophie Turner, best known for her role in Game of Thrones, won the distinguished award at the 45th festival in 2019. 

A woman signing her autograph before a crowd

Jessica Chastain at the 45th ceremony in 2019

Organized annually by the Le Public Système Cinéma and the Centre International de Deauville, over 60 films are presented in three different locations: the Centre International de Deauville, the Lucien Barrière Casino, and the Le Morny Cinema. The festival welcomes cinephiles from around the world, offering a one-day pass at € 35 which allows access to select film screenings and a chance to vote for the Deauville Audience Award. The prestigious Pass+ at € 430 provides access to all the screenings during the length of the festival plus royal welcome treatment and champagne. For anyone seeking to catch a glimpse of the celebrity attendees, the ceremony of the inauguration at the Promenade des Planches is free of charge and open to all. This wooden boardwalk lined with hundreds of beach huts named after film actors and directors – in honor of the festival – was an initiative by Anne d’Ornano, Deauville’s Mayor in the 1990s.

Since its early days, the Deauville American Film Festival has hosted some of American cinema’s biggest and brightest stars –  Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Sharon Stone and Al Pacino, to name just a few. With the creation of “Hommages” (“Homages”) in 1977, the film festival has received such iconic guests as Liz Taylor (1985), Bette Davis (1987), Kirk Douglas (1999), Robert Mitchum (1989), Gregory Peck (1977) and Burt Lancaster (1979). The 45th festival in 2019 paid homage to Pierce Brosnan for his lifetime achievement as a performer.

Two men shaking hands Director Francois Ford Coppola and Mayor of Deauville, Philippe Augier

A documentary division titled “Uncle Sam’s Docs” was added to the screening roster in 2003, and television series in 2010 including True Blood, The Sopranos and everyone’s favorite Game of Thrones in 2019, with all 73 episodes screened over 70 hours. 

If the stars are aligned, you might just mingle with them like Deauville local and international press relations professional Cassandra Moonen-Ferrera. At the 2019 festival, she had the pleasure of spotting Eva Green, Sienna Miller and Kristen Stewart during the official photo calls. Moonen-Ferrara gushed, “You could almost touch them and speak with them.” When I asked for her thoughts on the film festival itself, she replied with enthusiasm “It’s a human-scale event that is world-famous, highly qualitative and so elegant. It’s really a sparkling event for Deauville!” 

For more information visit www.festival-deauville.com

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