Cannes: "Inglorious Basterds" star & film director Eli Roth "In Conversation"

Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever,” “Hostel”) took time from his Cannes promotional schedule to speak at the American Pavilion’s Roger Ebert Conference Center last Tuesday and captured the audience’s attention with many inspiring tales.

Before last Tuesday, I didn’t know much about Eli Roth other than the fact that he wrote and directed a couple of very successful and popular Horror/Thrillers – films I have yet to see. Nor did I realize he is among that group of Tarantino filmmakers who like to cast one another in each other’s films (“Death Proof”, “Grindhouse”). But after spending an hour and a half with about a hundred other attentive audience members listening to the young and extremely energetic filmmaker, I can recommend without reservation that no one should miss a thing Roth has to offer, be it film, performance, or whatever. This man simply abounds with creative energy that’s rooted with an intellect and knowledge most young artists are sorely lacking.

Roth’s visit to the American Pavilion wasn’t so much of a “Conversation” as it was a soliloquy about his becoming a self-made successful filmmaker – apropos considering the audience was mostly made up of American film students aching for his kind of quick success. And Roth’s story is a good one, enhanced all the more by his own frenetic telling. Add to this the fact that he is a young, good looking and charismatic man with a big personality, and his is an enviable rise to stardom that equals that of a Hollywood script.

Like the majority of his audience, Roth too came to Cannes at a young age, but on his own and with a script in hand. He hustled throughout the market, went to many screenings and crashed numerous parties all without success. But, Roth says, it was an invaluable experience because he learned what to do the next time, and that was with the completed “Cabin Fever”. It was difficult and challenging, but he made it due in large part, no doubt, to his incredibly positive attitude about his own abilities.

Even after the initial success of his first feature (a film nobody believed would make money), Roth found it difficult to secure support for the work he wanted to produce. This was not entirely surprising since this included “The Rotten Fruit”, a cartoon about a rock and roll banana and apple. The man has strange and unusual tastes but, most importantly, he is passionate about the work he wants to do and that is the key lesson Roth brought to the table.

To date, none of his projects have been half-assed, kinda-wanna’ do, just make a paycheck project. Whether or not your cup of tea, all of Roth’s work has so far been ideas he’s really had a piece of himself in, which is an extremely important factor when you consider that a filmmaker is going to have to commit a few years of his or her life to each production they take on. Although Roth’s story is a unique one, unlikely to be matched by anyone else, the rule remains the same: You better believe in yourself and your work. Otherwise, how are you going to convince others to do the samer

When asked about his penchant for wanting to make “B” movies, Roth adamantly insists that he doesn’t make “B” movies, he makes “A” movies in a traditionally “B” movie genre. He believes the recent proliferation of Horror films is due in large part for the masses need to scream due to Bush, Chaney and Rumsfeld. Lacking any note of sarcasm, Roth theorized that it isn’t publicly acceptable to scream in public, so people go to the movies in order to yell their lungs out. It’s a viable outlet made all the more necessary by the previous administration.

Roth continued to enamor the audience as he recalled his first visit to Quentin Tarantino’s home to watch classic foreign Horror films. Roth said he couldn’t believe the moment as it was happening, that it was very surreal as he sat with his hero, sharing a favorite pass time, while getting advice on how to pursue his dream including the idea to never use a computer or type writer for a first draft. Tarantino insisted that a pen and paper is the only way to avoid rewriting to soon, forcing yourself to get through the whole script before going back with electronic tools on the second go around. He also encouraged Roth to continue the path he had already chosen, which was to pursue the work he wanted to do regardless of what the corporate people told him to do.

And so he has. Roth is an undeniably likable guy who is living the dream without the burden of creative boundaries arbitrarily imposed by others. Whatever his advantages or struggles may have been, they have served him well, resulting in a truly untethered voice in the world of cinema. And although “Hostel” may not initially strike you as a film worthy of your time, I recommend you reconsider, for there is value in anything created with the kind of passion Eli Roth exudes. It would benefit any filmmaker, regardless of genre, to care as much.

Photos: Mike Gendimenico

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