As the summer winds down and the French film industry makes its way back from holiday, the Deauville Festival of American Film has established a strong niche in the industry calendar.

A bevy of US studio films as well as independent fare will be screened in the seaside town, which acts as a launch pad for the cinema-going autumn in Europe.

Sandwiched as it is between - and overlapping - Venice and Toronto, Deauville can sometimes be perceived as being lost in the shuffle. However, Deauville and Venice tend to scratch each other's backs: stars travelling to the Lido often make a pit stop on the Normandy shores and vice-versa. Deauville - now in its 34th edition - may be seen as rather lightweight alongside those two venerable festivals, but it has a unique role, benefiting US and French distributors by showcasing a wide range of films.

Although many titles in the Deauville competition may not yet have French distribution, they are well-served by a huge national (and, increasingly, international) press corps which spotlights films that might otherwise fall below French cinema-goers' radar. "The festival is important for people who distribute US films because it's a quality label with an ability to take the pulse of an American film and a means to attract American talent while allowing them to work in a pleasurable setting," says Henri Ernst, head of marketing at TF1 International.

Of the 11 competition titles this year, only four have a French distributor attached. TFM Distribution boasts three of the titles and Ernst says this year, as is the norm, a team will be present at the festival. Business, Ernst says, happens once in a while but in many cases films are acquired following, rather than during, the festivities. Last year, three of the 11-strong competition films had a distributor attached before Deauville but a total of eight ultimately saw the inside of French theatres.

Bruno Barde, the festival's artistic director and managing director of Le Public Systeme Cinema which organises the event, says Deauville is not aiming for a market-type atmosphere.

"Deauville is about culture and promotion," he maintains. Barde is an avid film buff with discerning taste that has seen such recent Deauville winners as Crash and Little Miss Sunshine go on to Oscar glory. Last year's coup was the world premiere of Ben Affleck's critically lauded directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.

"Deauville has become a more useful festival for French distributors since the big studio films have started being released in day-and-date fashion in the summer - this was not the case when Deauville began," says industry veteran Jean Labadie, who will attend the festival looking for titles for his distribution outfit, Le Pacte.

"Now, there is a real 'little market' of independent films in Deauville and it's useful to attend - there are very high-quality documentaries for example."

As compared to the other major autumn festivals, Labadie notes: "Toronto is still bigger since it is open to the entire world and is very handy for sales and acquisitions. Venice is very prestigious but no one stays the whole time; it's too expensive and there's no market."

As for the big studio films, Deauville will kick off on September 5 with Universal Pictures' Mamma Mia! The Movie, while other major titles include Clint Eastwood's Changeling, Ed Harris' Appaloosa, Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace. Samuel L Jackson and Viggo Mortensen are among the star names confirmed to attend.

Top 10 US indie films in France, Jan-Aug 08
Title (Dist)Admissions
1.Into The Wild (Pathe)1,396,407
2.No Country For Old Men (Paramount Pics France)962,906
3.Juno (20th Century Fox)866,970
4.There Will Be Blood (Walt Disney SMP France)637,611
5.The Darjeeling Limited (20th Century Fox)552,650
6.In Bruges (SND)347,207
7.Cleaner (Colifilms Distribution)301,474
8.Shine A Light (Wild Bunch Distribution)139,021
9.Live! (Pretty Pictures)130,207
10.Funny Games (Les Films du Losange)116,175