Deauville: Soderbergh Muses on Friendships with Famous People

As the fall festival season swings into full gear with the opening of the Toronto Film Festival, Venice humming along and Telluride wrapping, another festival is heading into the home stretch on the Normandy shores here in Deauville, France.

Although it gets less media attention outside Europe than those other get-togethers, the Deauville Festival of American Film is an important step on the fall calendar for the US majors and for indie fare that otherwise might not get seen on the continent.

Used as a launching pad into Europe, Deauville showcases high-profile pictures — The Time Traveler’s Wife, Julie & Julia, District 9The Informant! and Gamer have all already screened — and US indies, which run in a separate competition.

Although the recession can be felt with a lack of glitzy parties, this has frankly been the case for the past couple of years. Still, the stars turn out to help promote their wares. Last weekend Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Meryl Streep, Nora Ephron, and others (Howard Stringer included) delighted fest-goers — La Streep parle francais! — by putting in an appearance.

Yesterday, Steven Soderbergh gave a press conference for The Informant!Robin Wright Penn is here today to promote The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Harrison Ford (a regular attendee) will be in town this weekend as the festival’s guest of honor.

Still, it’s a bit quiet as compared to a few years ago when George Clooney, Brad PittBen Affleck and Matt Damon all came to town. Damon for his part, Soderbergh’s producer Gregory Jacobs told journalists yesterday, would have been here this year but it was his daughter’s first day at a new school and she really wanted him to take her. “As much as he loves Deauville, he loves his daughter more,” Jacobs said — to applause.

Soderbergh was queried by local journalists about The Informant!, but also about his relationship with Damon and Clooney. Although he’s worked with Damon on several films, he said he would refer to him as more of a colleague than a friend. “I think he uses the term ‘friend’ very seriously and so do I. It sounds bad when you say someone famous is your friend, so no, he’s not my friend.”

Clooney was a different matter, however, “George is my friend, and I’ll tell you why — it’s because I’ve been to his house. Matt has never invited me to his house.”

France may be the country of the auteur and a place where navel-gazing about film is a national pastime, but French film journalists, you see, still get kind of giddy in the presence of a famous person — and especially one who has ties to even more famous people.

After a journalist referenced the notorious shenanigans during the Ocean’s shoots and asked, given Damon’s participation in both films, about any anecdotes on the Informant set, Soderbergh said the shoot was rather uneventful in those terms.

“George is the real prankster,” he said. And Pitt “had better watch his back,” he added, talking about one of the Ocean’s films on which Pitt had convinced the crew that Clooney insisted upon being referred to as “Mr. Ocean” — a caprice that made it into the press and apparently drew serious ire from George.

Clooney still hasn’t retaliated against Pitt, Soderbergh said, “but he is a very patient man. I asked him if he had something and he said, ‘Yeah, I’m working on something.’ He will wait 10 years to get him and it will destroy Brad.”

Over on the indie side, Richard Linklater was here the other day to present his out-of-competition film Me and Orson Welles and Mira Sorvino visited for Like Dandelion Dust.

In the indie competition, the Paul Giamatti-starrer Cold Souls, Kevin Spacey‘s turn as a Shrink, Lynn Shelton‘s close-up on male friendship Humpday and the Woody Harrelson war film The Messenger are among those to have screened thus far.

Miguel Arteta‘s Youth In Revolt premieres tomorrow followed by Sundance favorite PreciousAndy Garcia will be in town as the subject of a tribute and in support of Raymond De Felitta‘s City Island

Luc Besson will also be here on Friday in support of documentary The Cove, which his EuropaCorp is releasing in France. The press-shy filmmaker/mogul will typically forgo a press conference, however.

The awards, which in the past have presaged Oscar nominations with acuity (see Crash, Little Miss Sunshine, The Visitor) will be presented on Sunday.

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