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Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola


While Martin Scorsese is finally poised to win the directing Oscar for an entertainingly efficient piece of genre work (“The Departed”), an even more towering `70s director has returned to the type of personal filmmaking that cemented his career in the first place.


Francis Ford Coppola hasn’t directed a movie since 1997’s “The Rainmaker,” a mostly well-received John Grisham adaptation that ended the filmmaker’s work-for-hire period. Since then he has built up his wine business, overseen re-released versions of “Apocalypse Now” (expanded to “Apocalypse Now Redux”) and “One From the Heart,” spearheaded the successful short-fiction quarterly Zoetrope: All Story and enjoyed daughter Sofia’s filmmaking success (with “Lost in Translation” winning her a screenwriting Oscar).


He also wrote and planned to direct an epic tale of New York City called “Megalopolis” before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the city’s landscape and the filmmaker found he couldn’t overcome the project’s script, budgetary and logistical issues. Instead, he relocated to Romania and other points abroad for about 14 months, and now the 67-year-old enthusiast of many things is putting the finishing touches on “Youth Without Youth,” his adaptation of the late Romanian philosopher (and University of Chicago professor) Mircea Eliade’s World War II-era novella.


Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz star in this story about a bedridden elderly Romanian academic becoming mysteriously rejuvenated and fleeing the Nazis across several borders.


Coppola shot the movie with his own money on his own schedule with, for once, zero interference from studio executives and other finance types. As he spoke on the phone recently from his Napa Valley, Calif., home, he was about to view the movie with its sound mix in place for the first time. This week it would become “the totally finished movie.”


He hasn’t shown it to anybody, and subsequently it has no distributor. “Part of the philosophy of this is that a movie is a different thing when it’s finished and has all of its elements,” he said, “so after the 22nd, we’ll start deciding the best people to deal with. But not another human being has seen the film.”


Meanwhile, not to waste any time, Coppola announced another project last week: Later this year he intends to begin filming “Tetro,” a family saga about Italian immigrants living in Buenos Aires.


“I’m 67 years old,” he said. “I feel in a productive area for a while, so I would like to make hay when the sun is out.”


“Tetro” will be Coppola’s first movie since 1974’s great “The Conversation” (made between the two “Godfather” movies) that he has directed from his own original script. He said Matt Dillon, the star of his 1983 films “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish,” is the only actor attached so far.


Coppola soon will head to Argentina to begin scouting locations and immersing himself in the country’s literary, artistic and social traditions. “I just want to soak up the culture, of which there’s a lot down there,” he said.


After his legendary financial struggles, particularly on “One From the Heart,” it’s obviously nice for Coppola to do whatever the heck he wants. His wine business is so successful that it recently split in two: The Niebaum-Coppola winery has been renamed Rubicon (after its top-shelf wine) and focuses on premium winemaking, while his other self-named company is the brand on the Coppola wines you find in stores, plus food products and tropical resorts.


Hence Coppola finally has the freedom to make his passion projects - albeit with budgets topping out around $20 million. Even so, Coppola said, “Youth Without Youth” is a two-hour epic with 51 speaking roles, locations in several countries and period cars and costumes.


“When you really control the production, it’s much more efficient,” he said.


“Megalopolis” would have cost at least $80 million, thus forcing him to partner with studios or financiers. He doesn’t want to do that anymore.


“They pretty much want you to make movies that are like other movies,” Coppola said. “If I came with a gangster movie, they might be interested. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even the most illustrious colleagues have to face that stuff.”


Like, for instance, Scorsese?


“I’m sure he wants to continue doing personal stuff, but it’s easier for him to do a project that they’re comfortable with because it’s familiar to them,” he said. “I know Marty, and I know he has many great personal films that are not like anything anyone’s seen yet.”

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