Guests walking Deauville’s famed Les Planches broadwalk this weekend included Francis Ford Coppola, Shirley Maclaine, Bill Murray, Michael Shannon, Ellen Barkin and Kate Bosworth.

The 37th edition of the Deauville American Film Festival kicked off in style over the weekend with international premiere of US box office hit The Help accompanied by director Tate Taylor, writer Kathryn Stockett and cast members Viola Davis and Emma Stone.

“I couldn’t even get the thing published in book form. I didn’t think it was ever going to become a film. I had 60 rejections from agents over the course of three years,” writer Stockett revealed at the news conference on Saturday.

The Civil Rights Era drama, based on Mississippi-born Stockett’s eponymous novel, dominated the US box office this weekend, grossing some $119m.

“Tate Taylor here got his hands on the manuscript and was already adapting it page by page. I kept having to reminding him I couldn’t even find a publisher let alone a studio. He asked me for the film rights. He hadn’t had a whole lot of success and he was my best friend and of course I said ‘no’,” she added with deadpan Southern humour. 

Deauville’s The Help coup unfolded against the perennial debate in the French media regarding the festival’s international relevance, sandwiched as it is between Venice and Toronto.

“Deauville is nothing like it was in the 1980s when stars would disembark on the Normandy coast one after the other, to launch their blockbusters. At the time, we gorged ourselves on stars on a daily basis… Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise and Robert de Niro would bump into one another,” commented weekly news magazine L’Express

But festival director Bruno Barde dismissed such debates.

“The problem is that people in France as elsewhere think American cinema is only about blockbusters and stars. My role is to present a panorama of American cinema in its entirety and a snapshot of what’s going on in American production right now as well as tributes to its legends such as Blake Edwards , Shirley Maclaine and Francis Ford Coppola,” Barde told Screen.

“There’s no other festival quite like Deauville in the world. Over the coming days we’re going to show some 90 American films and welcome 100 related actors and directors,” he added.  “We’ve had a great opening weekend. Two days ago The Help didn’t exist in France, today it does.”

Guests in the opening days included Francis Ford Coppola, who discussed his upcoming film Twixt, his “live cinema” project and why Marlon Brando never made it into the final scene of The Godfather Part II in an open conversation with the public, and Shirley Maclaine who talked politics, reincarnation and a little bit about her illustrious career.

Speaking about Twixt, which is due to premiere at Toronto, Coppola said:  “It’s an unusual film, it’s not easy to put into an easy category, it’s part gothic romance, it’s part personal film and it’s part a Roger Corman, low budget production but then it’s not really because it ended up not being that low budget… I am eager to show it to the public.”

The director also revealed that after “three contained, personal projects” he was about to embark on writing a larger “more vast” film but did not reveal any more details.

Competition titles screening in the opening two days included The Return, Take Fright, On the Ice and Another Happy Day.  

Alaskan director Andrew Okpeaha Maclean’s tense thriller On the Ice, capturing the lives of native Inupiat Eskimo teenagers in the isolated town of Barrow in northern Alaska, received an enthusiastic response on Sunday.

“The key difficulties of shooting were the cold, at one point it was minus 25 degrees centigrade… but also filming on the frozen ocean, with the right wind conditions the set could have started floating towards Russia, and also polar bears…,” Maclean explained at the news conference.

Sam Levinson’s Another Happy Day, accompanied by the director as well as key cast members Ellen Barkin and Kate Bosworth, also played to a packed theatre and received a standing ovation.

“It was a wonderful full circle,” said Ellen Barkin of working with Barry Levinson on Diner and now his son Sam on Another Happy Day.Diner was my very first movie and Barry’s first movie and this is Sam’s first movie… but I can’t compare the two at all.”

The Deauville American Film Festival runs until Sept 11.