Coppola at the Cannes Film Festival
As part of the ongoing programming at the American Pavilion Francis Ford Coppola was the first guest of the “In Conversion” series at the newly christened Roger Ebert Conference Room. The stately director fulfilled all expectations as he held the rapt attention of festival attendies at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival.
Of all the great things that can be seen and heard at big film festivals, listening to experienced directors talk about their craft is probably the most exciting and intriguing. This is exponentially even 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). I was fortunate to be present as one of the employees, managing the sound and lights as the famed filmmaker held court. There were only a hundred or so seats available in that conference room on the beach, and it was certainly filled to capacity that day.
Immediately it was plain to see that one of the great things 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 him experiencing a reemergence 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.
There is one moment I will never forget. Coppola became wonderfully sentimental when speaking of his youth from which many of his current inspirations are emerging. His love for family and the bonds that exist within that dynamic over powered his words when recalling particularly poignant childhood memories with his professionally frustrated father and dancing sister-in-law. More than once the man had to pause due to becoming overwhelmed by the moment. It was a very touching and moving sight to know that your hero is not only human, but also a big old pussycat.
In all, the conversation was extremely encouraging, in a multitude of ways, mostly because of Coppola’s strong faith in the emerging filmmakers (the new ones as well as the experienced ones). There are 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 for you, yourself as an artist, regardless of the critics and expectations placed upon you. He believes that with that as a guide there is no reason why a filmmaker cannot continue to be relevant through out his (or her) lifetime. Obviously, this is most definitely true of Francis Ford Coppola.