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Coppola gets personal

November 23, 2007

Three, Two, One… Action!
After a decade as a producer and low-profile director for hire, Francis Ford Coppola has dusted his skills and has once again become visible in the seventh art showbiz with Youth Without Youth. This project, much more personal than his previous titles and shot with limited resources, tells the story of a linguistics scholar that recovers his youth after being struck by a lightning just before the Second World War.

The film, which will be released in the UK and the US on December 14th, has already been screened in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Algeria, Monaco, Morocco and Tunisia with a global Box Office of 1,2 million dollars.

Francis Ford Coppola has directed 22 films- in which he has often featured also as a writer- and produced many more, but he owes his international fame to The Godfather, one of the last fifty years’ classics.

Although Hollywood bowed at his feet when he won the Best Director Oscar for the second part of the saga in 1975, his first attempts at bringing to life mafioso Vito Corleone were everything but a walk in the park.

As Coppola told Washington-based Academy of Achievement in 1995, the movie was ” very unappreciated” while it was being done. “They didn’t like the cast. They didn’t like the way I was shooting it. I was always on the verge of getting fired, so it was an extremely nightmarish experience”.

In those years, theatre-trained Coppola learned the mechanics of the film industry the hard way. “I always found the film world unpleasant. It’s all about the schedule, and never really flew for me in the way that my very happy college career did”, he told the Academy .

However, the personality of this Italian-American director, which he describes as “restless” and “enthusiastic”, forced him to persevere.

With the experience gained in projects like Apocalypse Now (1979) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), he started to write the screenplay of Megalopolis, a project he left unfinished six years later.

It was then when Coppola embarked in his latest adventure, Youth Without Youth.The BBC reported in 2005 that the filmmaker discovered Romanian author Mircea Eliade’s books through and old high school friend. He claimed to be excited when one of them talked about the themes he most wanted to understand: “time, consciousness and the dreamlike basis of reality”.

For the five Oscar-winner, Youth Without Youth was a big challenge in terms of production, but he took the risk and invested part of the money he had managed to pull in from the wine estate in Italian Napa Valley he owns since 1975 and from his luxury resort in Central-American Belize.

Ultimately, it was his daughter Sofia Coppola, who gave him the courage to face it. “If Sofia went off to Japan to make Lost in Translation on a lower budget; certainly I can”, he said during an interview for The Guardian in 2003.

Sofia and his older brother Roman, both working in the film industry, have played a determining part in the development of the company that Coppola founded in 1969, American Zoetrope, but also in the director’s private life.

Married to Eleanor for 44 years, Francis Ford Coppola has always laid a great emphasis on family. In an interview with James Mottram for The Independent, the filmmaker assured that he would choose those he loves over any idea of work or success. However, when his son Gio died in 1986 in a speedboat accident aged 22, he had to continue shooting “Gardens of Stone”.

Although his fame seems to have suffered the negative impact of films like “Jack” (1996), which were either largely ignored or heavily criticized, Coppola is still able to cause trouble in Hollywood’s heaven.

A few weeks ago, the director of Youth Without Youth claimed during an interview for the magazine GQ that famous American actors Robert de Niro, Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson have become “lazy” while praising Spanish actor Javier Bardem.

After seeing his words splashed across various European and American media outlets, he said that the publication had twisted his words and told The Independent: “I think those three guys are among the greatest living actors we have”.

Regardless of controversies, Coppola looks at the future with renewed vigor, and seems to stand by what he told USA-based online magazine Fast Company in 1998: “You have your life – experience it to the fullest”.

At 68, the career of the Oscar-winning director is far from over. So convinced is he that he will stay behind the camera for years to come that he recently told The Independent: “I just want to make one movie after another while I can still walk”.

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