Film Scouts Interviews

Francis Ford Coppola
at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival

by Henri Béhar

May 10, 1996

We had been playing phone tag for weeks. Preparation for Cannes had been frantic, but certainly no less than the 1996 future President of the Jury's schedule: Francis Ford Coppola was looping his latest film, "Jack", with Robin Williams. Wait, the entire schedule is off: he's just signed to direct "The Rainmaker", Could we hook up at some stopover on his way to the Riviera, on what he called "an itinerary to do different things for different aspects of my life"? How about New York, where he is to spend one whole day in a mixing room? No, I might be in Paris. How about London, then? He'd be there on a private visit, but. Difficult, I might be on my way to Cannes. Could I stop in Burgundy, where the Man who Reigns on Napa Valley is to be honored on May 7 by The Wine Makers and Tasters Fraternity? One day before the Festival opens? No way, things are already cooking in Cannes.
Finally, the phone rings.

"I'm sort of making a mad dash to an airport in an open car. Is this a good time?"

Couldn't be better: I was on a cellular phone in the car taking me from Manhattan to J.F.K., having practically given up. Excerpts from our conversation, static and all.

F.S.: How did you react when [general delegate] Gilles Jacob approached you to be president of the jury?

F.F.C.: How did I react...? One second, Henri. (To driver) Is there a volume? (Back on the phone) Well, he had asked me several times before, I had never been able to do it. This seemed to be the best opportunity, since although I am finishing this Robin Williams picture, at least it might be possible for me to run away and let them do the pre-mix. So I'm grateful I can do it this time. Of course I have many happy memories of Cannes [not to mention two Golden Palms, one for "The Conversation" in 1974, one, shared, for "Apocalypse Now", in 1979], so it's a pleasure to return.

F.S.: No qualms about having to judge films and deliver awards implying "This one is better than that one".

F.F.C.: No. I've been in that position before, I have taken part in the process of trying to give prizes to artistic work, I believe I have good criteria and a very impartial way to do it. So I'm comfortable that I can do a decent job.

F.S.: Care to expand on said criteria?

F.F.C.: Not until I've discussed that with the jury first.

F.S.: Let me rephrase it then: What is it that you look for in a film?

F.F.C.: Life.

F.S.: Did you have a hand in selecting your co-jurors?

F.F.C.: I was invited to give my suggestions, and I did. Gilles Jacob was especially interested in having perhaps more people who were not necessarily Americans, and not necessarily of the male gender. I noticed for instance that [production- and "Dracula"'s costume-designer] Eiko Ishioka, from Japan, was chosen. I did hope for some representatives from younger generations and I guess Atom Egoyan, whom I don't know personally but whose work I do know, represents well this younger age. My feeling is the more diverse opinions and different points of view, the better.

F.S.: Have you already decided how you are going to drive your jury, so to speak?

F.F.C.: It's so hard to hear you, what is your number?


F.F.C.: I'll call you right back.

[Interruption. He calls back]

F.F.C.: Can you hear me now?

F.S.: Very well.

F.F.C.: Okay, let's continue.

F.S.: The president of the jury sets the agenda and defines the way the jury is going to go about things. Do you plan, for instance, to ask the jurors to see each competing film twice?

F.F.C.: I hadn't planned to, but if we want to see a film a second time, we will. I've never heard of a criteria like that.

F.S.: I think that's what [former jury President and director of Zoetrope-produced "Hammett"] Wim Wenders wanted to do.

F.F.C.: Well, you know, Wim is entirely another deal. (laughs)

F.S.: Will you essentially, and deliberately, stick to the films in competition, or will you roam around and see other stuff?

F.F.C.: I would hope that I can roam around a bit and see whatever there is of interest.

F.S.: Unlike Roman Polanski, who also presided the jury, you don't feel it will interfere with your task.

F.F.C.: I can't see why.

F.S.: There's a very strong presence of non-American cinema in the selection and actually in most of the sidebars. Particularly European films. Does that strike you as unusual?

F.F.C.: I assume that's what an international festival is all about! I would be disappointed if I went all the way to Cannes to see a lot of American industry films. They really shouldn't be called "American Films", they should be more referred to as "industry films", because they're all made by international companies and they really don't reflect a true America any more than... There is an independent American film that is as much apart from the industry as films made in other countries. I like to see the cinema of different cultures. I don't want just to see the artistic production of one enormous production machine... It just so happens that the industry is based in America, but it doesn't reflect the soul of American cinema, it reflects the Wall Street-Hollywood axis, that's different from American cinema.

Besides, I very much wanted to go to Cannes without having a film to present or worrying about a film, or in the difficult stages of a film where I was either editing or solving problems. I really wanted to go to fully enjoy the experience, to be stimulated by filmmakers from other countries and have nothing on my mind but the experience itself. Plus -- no offense -- since I don't have a film in competition, or a film coming out, without even worrying about giving interviews!

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