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The Global Film Village: Francis Ford Coppola at the Torino Film Festival

by Marla Lewin

Francis Ford Coppola at Torino Film Festival photo by Marc Halperin



Another in our series on the Future of Cinema.


We were attending the Torino Film Lab and I had the opportunity to interview Francis Ford Coppola. I mentioned we are working on a series about the Future of Cinema, and Francis said he has his own theory, but it would take some time to explain and would use up all of our time. He doesn’t think 3D will be the answer that the studios believe it is.


He is in Torino showing his latest film Teatro, which he shot in Argentina, at the Torino Film Festival and last night it was sold out.  He told us he liked living in Argentina, which like the rest of South America has a great literary tradition of poetry and novels. He also likes listening to it’s music, seeing it’s color, romance, its life.


Teatro, is a cousin to his other black and white film, Rumblefish which was based on a novel written by Susie Hinton. It is about family, like many of his films, and about sibling rivalry. Francis idolized his older brother, and often watched movies with him when they were small children. His father Carmine, a composer of music, was also a great influence on him, as was the Theatre.


Francis was a part of a group of filmmakers, like George Lucas, Walter Murch, who were living and working in San Francisco. They realized they could do interesting things with sound, for little money and it gave their films a distinctive feel.  He said that they developed the 5.1 stereo sound system we all use today.


He says he continues to work in his own way, to keep costs down, so that he can continue to be free and take risks.  He says his old friend George Lucas, is a very creative, experimental director, and he is fearless. George is exploring technology. He talked about Martin Scorsese, and how he continues to make films that are different, as well as teaching young children in New York City schools to make movies.  Francis usually works with fresh unknown actors, as they are affordable, and they are not so famous, that they expect to basically direct the film. Recently he chose to work with Vincent Gallo, because he has a sense of humor. He enjoyed working with him, and he thought he was right for the part. He had originally cast Matt Dillon, but that did not work out because of scheduling.


In his Italian press conference, he talked about the mythology of Zeus and Jupiter, and how important the father figure is in literature.  He was influenced by the work of Michael Powell who was part of the team in England that created the The Thief of Bagdad for producer Alex Korda. Hungary had the greatest theatre tradition which was exported to London for the cinema. His older brother loved Michael Powell, and when Francis was five years old he would take him to the movies. They would be watching these films, and they left a great impression on him. When Francis was 17 or 18 he wanted to be a playwright, and to work in the theatre. As a young student he saw a film by Serge Eisenstein, and  it changed his life forever.  Eisenstein’s films were silent.  He had not seen anything like them before. Eisenstein was also a man of the theatre.  When Frances first saw how  the magical synthesis of montage editing could transform cinema, how scenes were made from diverse images, he was very enthusiastic about these new possibilities. He was studying at the Yale Drama school, and he decided to switch to film studies at UCLA. He talked about the influence of theatre greats like Eugene O’Neil, and Tennessee WIlliams on his style.


He told us, the one regret of his life, was that he allowed Vittorio Storaro to shoot, One From the Heart, in segments, because he so admired him. He had originally intended to shoot it with 16 cameras from all different angles in a live recording. Vittorio said that it would be impossible to light it properly in that manner. So they shot it conventionally in many takes. He was 25 years ahead of his time as this is how live theatre like the Metropolitan Opera is shot today.


Today, Francis said that there are so many more options working with digital technology.  ”You are not locked into the footage you have shot. With digital you have unlimited choices, You can determine in one location you will show it in color in another in Black and White and in a third a totally different cut. Still, digital cinema is just another form of technology, cinema itself it is still about the art”. Francis believes that sound came too soon.  ”It would have probably been better for the development of the motion picture art form if sound had been developed 10 years later”. He said the forms will change but cinema will survive.


People often ask Francis what are his favorite films. They ask for his top 5-10 films. He says that between 1920-27 he could chose 5 films just in Berlin. There was a great abundance of films he admires. He says that cinema, like dreams, will continue to be fertile.  Asked about The Future of Cinema Francis felt that it continues to be abundant, although the costs to make great films is still very expensive.  It can be done.


He said,”I am Italian. All Americans are immigrants that is what makes America great. It is a country that has appreciated its newcomers and has seen the value of new ideas. We have all struggled, and this is a gift, it makes you strong. We never know where new films and filmmakers will emerge from.  There have been great films from Iran, a few years ago a renaissance took place in Mexico, Italy is a nation of actors.  I have made and lost a lot of money but it has taught me that you cannot have great cinema without risk”.


Francis said, “I made Apocalypse Now and didn’t know it was going to be an adventure, I thought it was a war film”. He got Marlin Brando to work for a million a week for three weeks for Apocalypse Now.  “Then I did The Conversation.  George Lucas did Star Wars.  George is more talented than anyone knows.  He can do a lot more.”  Francis then told us about his personal approach to filmmaking, “I like telling personal, truthful stories about family rivalry.  In a mythical way it is a privilege to make movies about the arts.  I like to own my films.  Success is funny, I have won 5 oscars, have done 40, 50 films. I did 7 films in 6 years to pay off the banks over Zoetrope. Studios want what is familiar, to associate with certain actors and genres. They would love me to come back and make a gangster film for them. Marty Scorsese did King of Comedy and then switched to a long series of gangster films”.


photos(c) Marc Halperin


Francis concluded the discussion with “The next 25 years ahead will have shifts in technology.  There are always opportunities”.


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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.


Los Angeles

United States

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