May 15 – As part of the ongoing programming at the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival, director Francis Ford Coppola was the first guest of the “In Conversation” series at the newly christened Roger Ebert Conference Room.
Of all the great things that can be seen and heard at the big film festivals, experienced directors talking about their craft is probably the most exciting and intriguing. This is exponentially more so when the director sharing his life’s work is Francis Ford Coppola (arguably the greatest living export the US has to offer in the world of cinema).
And the great thing about Coppola is that he is so open and giving with his self, his process and his advice. Many directors are guarded of such trade secrets, but not Coppola. Greeted with a standing ovation and thunderous applause, the austere director immediately assimilated himself as one of the crowd by addressing the audience as fellow filmmakers – in other words, peers.
He spoke of the focus of his latest work, and of his experience reemerging as a “fresh” director, much as a first timer, or more youthful filmmaker would. Interestingly, the audience responded to Coppola in kind, asking many questions one might ask of a bright new artistic force, leading to some personal and emotional moments that will be remembered by every person in that room.
Coppola became particularly sentimental when speaking of his youth from which many of his current inspirations are emerging. His love of family and the bonds that exist within that dynamic overpowered his words when recalling particularly poignant childhood memories of his professionally frustrated father and dancing sister-in-law. More than once Coppola had to pause when becoming overwhelmed. It was very touching and moving to discover that your hero is not only human, but also a big ol’ pussycat.
In all, the conversation was extremely encouraging in a multitude of ways, mostly because of Coppola’s strong faith in the emerging filmmaker (the new ones as well as the experienced ones). There are multitudes of stories to be told out there, and many ways to tell them from many different perspectives. The most important thing Coppola stressed was the importance of keeping it fresh, regardless of the critics and expectations placed upon you. With that as a guide, there is no reason why a filmmaker cannot continue to be relevant throughout his lifetime. This is most definitely true of Francis Ford Coppola.
Photos: Mike Gendimenico