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14-22 MAY 2024

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Interview with Writer, Director, Producer Jeff Gross on Cannes Market Film "Return to Eden" (2022)

Interview with Writer, Director, Producer Jeff Gross on Cannes Market Film "Return to Eden" (2022) Interview with Writer, Director, Producer Jeff Gross on Cannes Market Film "Return to Eden" (2022) Jeff Gross

Writer, Director, Producer Jeff Gross was born in 1957 in Stamford, Connecticut, USA. He moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the age of four and lived there until the age of six with his father who was South American Editor of Look Magazine. Gross moved back to New York, then later to Paris, France for five years with his father who was the European Editor of Look Magazine. He later resided in Boulder, Colorado and Los Angeles, California for high school. He attended university at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA where he acquired a Bachelor of Arts in History (with specialization in Intellectual History and Languages).

Before beginning his film career, Gross attempted a professional soccer career. He went on to Sweden after graduation to try to play professionally where he spent three months with Djurgarden, Swedish First Division, then two months with Tennis Borussia Berlin, German Second Division. He later decided professional soccer was not for him and went into a screenwriting career in Paris, France where he lived for decades. Gross recently moved back to the US and currently resided in Eugene, Oregon. His recent film “Return to Eden” (2022) screened at the 75th annual Cannes market.


In a recent interview with Jeff Gross, here is what he had to say:

Can you tell us about your path to become a writer? Did you always know this was what you wanted to do? 

JEFF: My father was a writer, so that was probably the absolute last profession I ever wanted to do. This said, I was a voracious reader, and when I discovered Henry Miller, the life of freedom and improvisation he described seemed incredibly alluring to me compared to the static, predictable and boring future facing me in Los Angeles. I bought completely into the myth. At the age of 19 I bought a plane ticket to Europe, and a Eurail pass, with just enough money to survive for six months, if I kept expenses to $10 a day (a popular notion that was already long out-of-date by that time). It was a time of extreme hardship. One day I would eat and walk around all night or take a train to a faraway city, the next I would pay for a hotel. But the adventure was glorious, amazing, and I would write giddy letters back home to share the adventure. And I guess I discovered that I had a bit of a gift for putting thoughts and images together. Along with a willful desire for adventure, and enough endurance to have the experiences which would be worthy of writing about. Adventures no one else would dare go on.


What has been your biggest challenge/s and your biggest reward/s thus far?

Originally, when I decided to be a writer, I wanted to be novelist. I wanted to write original pieces, as a true novelist should. When I was hired by Roman Polanski to work on the script of "Frantic", that level of originality was appreciated and honored, the back and forth between us was rich, and endlessly funny, and we wrote the script we wanted to write. A euphoric experience, which doubtless spoiled me, because as I learned, when you don't have the 600 pound gorilla in your corner, you don't necessarily get to do what you want to do. In fact, very often, you are asked to do something which is worse, and that has always been difficult. Which is why I tend to be drawn to more independent fare, and rely on the critiques of a few trusted friends. As for the rewards, I went to the premiere of "Bitter Moon," in Paris, which was my third script collaboration with Polanski. Feeling the emotion of the room, the tension was a revelation, feeling the alchemy coming off the screen. And knowing when the humorous moments were coming, feeling the set-up of the joke, and then hearing the laugh! I was like a little boy in my seat, buzzing with pure bliss, knowing I had brought that into the world.


You are a writer, director and producer. Do you believe it is necessary to have multiple talents to be a filmmaker these days? 

JEFF: I like having as much control as possible, partly because I am hungry and a perfectionist, and I know I will keep striving until I get the result I want. It would be wonderful, ideal, to have like-minded collaborators, but I absolutely rebel against the idea of waiting for permission to be able to do my art, so sometimes I embark on projects that, logically, make no sense. In the case of “Return to Eden”, which was somewhat autobiographical, it was a story about a guy who coaches a high school girls’ tennis team, but also has a friendship with an amazing and brilliant woman who happens to be a stripper. A story that seemed important in this dark era because the control of sexuality, and the defining of innocence are hallmarks of totalitarian governments. It’s a story that I knew from the get-go would never be accepted by anyone in Hollywood. Thus, I jumped off a cliff, like the fool I am, enduring incredible opposition, and somehow ended up with something quite astonishing. In retrospect, I wouldn’t say that wearing that many hats is good for your health.


Out of all the films you've worked on, do you have a film that you are most proud of?

JEFF: I think “Bitter Moon,” the film I collaborated on the writing of with Roman Polanski, is the most interesting and powerful film I have worked on. Particularly because of what happens outside the film, what the audience takes away. It was designed as an emotional rollercoaster, a rhythm of dramatic tension and laughter, dramatic tension, and laughter, which left people shattered at the end. I’ve had hundreds of people come up to me and say how that film changed their lives, how it left them with the guts in knots. “Return to Eden” is an attempt to produce a similar visceral experience of paradise and the loss of paradise, experienced deeply, subliminally. I am completely uninterested in film as a product. I am of the school that artists must be the conscience of a society, the prophets with transformation and evolution of consciousness the goal.


You spent much of your career living in Europe. Is it easier to produce independent films overseas or back home in America?

JEFF: It’s nearly impossible to make independent films in Europe. In the United States, you can still find people who will join in on a project for little or no pay, because they need a credit on their resume, or for the adventure. While in Europe, I feel that many filmmakers have been neutered by public money, and the mafia that distributes this money, with, frequently, terrible taste. It turns artists into high class beggars, waiting for a handout. A lack of dignity, a lack of pride, and a level of indolence and aversion to risk, which makes for unfortunate, predictable results. I’d rather embark on my act of folly on my own. “Return to Eden” had to be made, to try, somehow to affect the descent into madness that we are seeing everywhere. That’s why I made it. I didn’t have six months to wait on commissions to give me the green light, nor for Hollywood. It was a question of urgency.


Can you tell us about your film "Return to Eden" without revealing too much about it?

JEFF: “Return to Eden” refers to the protagonist, Josef K., returning home to the town of Eden, Oregon, after 30 years in France, to see that Paradise 2.0 has become a very unhealthy place. Unable to write, because the world has become so crazy, he can’t keep up., Josef coaches the girls’ tennis team at one of the local high schools, getting amazing results. At the same time, he strikes up a friendship with a brilliant woman named Hope, who happens to be a stripper at Puritan Eden’s only nightclub. Tennis and strip clubs, two worlds that certainly don’t mix.


When can people see the film?

JEFF: It’s strange, the film has gotten virtually nothing but rave reviews from those who have watched it, with (so far) the exception of film festivals and sales companies. The performances are amazing, but the actors are not big names, so that is a problem, allegedly. As if the importance of the story, the quality of the film, the emotional voyage were not a consideration. Enthusiasm is so great that I feel confident it is only a matter of time before the right person gets behind it, so I remain confident. I am reminded of a YouTube video I saw long ago, of a music festival on a hill, where a crazy-looking guy starts to dance in the most-crazy fashion. For two minutes he dances all alone until another guy hops up and starts dancing in an equally crazy fashion. After which, no more than 15 seconds later, the whole crowd (hundreds of people) rushed over to do a crazy dance as well. For “Return to Eden” I am serene, just waiting for my second lunatic to appear.


You recently attended the Cannes Film Festival. How was it? 

JEFF: I have been to Cannes maybe thirty times, and it has always been amazing, probably the most euphoric moment of the year for me. An endurance run, a marathon. A chance to hang out with a magnificent and creative international crowd, to speak on the level you want and have people get it, to be able to joke freely. This year, “Return to Eden” was in the market, which was a special feeling after all these years, to have a film at Cannes. A sense of completion, a moment to see just how remarkable an achievement it is. A bit of a swagger.


Why is it important for writers, directors, and producers to attend Cannes? 

JEFF: Cannes is the festival to attend. It’s a place to encounter the allies without whom you cannot pull off a career in the film business. Many people say they are uncomfortable with networking, but I don’t look at it as networking, I look at it as being open to finding the like-minded souls with whom you can travel the road. The meeting you could never get in LA can happen automatically at a party in one of the hotel bars, on the beach.


What will you be working on next?

JEFF: In 1980, I lived on a tiny Greek island called Astypalea in the Dodecanese islands over by Turkey. One ferry a week, 1000 inhabitants, 20% of whom are either mentally deficient or to deaf-mutes. An entire island with an incredible, mischievous sense of humor". I ended up living there for 14 months in all and wrote a script based on this time which I will be directing. This time with an actual budget, and “names” to boot. There is comedy, there is romance, there are donkeys, but I wouldn’t say it is a romantic comedy. It is more of a deep, intimate dive into a world that may be long gone but can still transport us.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon



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