Inquirer, October 27, 2007

Francis Ford Coppola 'forever grateful' to Filipinos
By Ruben V. Nepales

LOS ANGELES, California - "The Filipino people were generous and worked so hard with us. We will forever be affectionate toward them!"

Those were the sentiments expressed by director Francis Ford Coppola when we recently asked him about making "Apocalypse Now" in the Philippines.

"Salamat po!," he said to us twice.

It has been 32 years since one of cinema's greatest directors began filming his Vietnam War masterpiece in Laguna and other parts of the country. Hailed as a genius for his innovations in the landmark film-including the use of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" in a scene involving attacking helicopters-Coppola won the Cannes' coveted Palme d'Or in 1979. An anniversary edition, "Apocalypse Now Redux," includes 49 minutes of additional footage.


But, the making of "Apocalypse" also took its personal and financial toll on the director. Francis' wife, Eleanor, chronicled his debacles, including incidents that threatened their marriage, in the documentary, "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse."

The director mortgaged his winery estate to finance the movie. While the film made some money, it took a while before Coppola regained his financial bearings.

In our interview, he volunteered how his daughter, Sofia, a child back then but now also a respected filmmaker, tried to stop folks from delivering foreclosure papers at the porch of their Napa Valley home in California, which she likened to Tara, Scarlet O'Hara's beloved estate in "Gone With the Wind."

Today, the California winery is so successful that it has allowed the filmmaker to keep the house and make the kind of movies he wants to do.

After many years, the first film from the director is "Youth Without Youth," which premiered at the Rome Film Festival recently, about a linguistics professor (Tim Roth) who is hit and charred by lightning.

He doesn't just survive the accident-it miraculously restores his youth! The story's theme of rejuvenation, based on a novella by Mircea Eliade, evokes Francis' own reinvigoration, as well as his renewed desire to direct personal films.

Looking like a professor at the press con, Francis knew how to charm. He was alternately moving, funny and witty. Also evident was his passion for the topics at hand-like family, wine and films (including his dream project, "Megalopolis).

In response to a question, he clarified that even a filmmaker of his stature couldn't get financing for a project he wants to do. "People think that if you're a well-known director, you can make any film you want. No one can do that! They have to make films that the studios think they'll make money from.

"So, until the day that Exxon (the giant oil firm) comes and says, 'We're going to finance any movie of Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen,' no director can do what he wants-except maybe Steven Spielberg, because the movies that Spielberg wants to make are very much what the public enjoys."


The director of the three acclaimed "Godfather" movies revealed, "I have a successful company (a winery), so I'm able to finance my films. Every year, I will make films on the level of 'Youth Without Youth.' I'll put up the money myself. I don't have time anymore to beg!"

Confessing to a desire to return to his roots, Francis admitted: "I have always wanted to be a 'personal' filmmaker, and to be inspired by the movies that I saw-from Sweden, Japan, France and Italy-when I was 18.

"In a funny way, I became a studio director when I was very young. I always thought: 'What happened to the director I wanted to be when I was 18 years old?' Maybe I can go back and be just like that!

"Salamat po," he began his response to our question about the epic he made in the Philippines. "'Apocalypse Now' is a good example of what I'm talking about. Although it was a big war film, it was also a very personal movie.

"But, I couldn't even find actors who would go to the Philippines to do the film! Ultimately, I had to finance the picture by putting up the wine estate that would later make my fortune."

The list of actors who eventually went with Francis to the Philippines was impressive, even by today's standards: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper and some virtual unknowns then, like Harrison Ford and Laurence Fishburne (who was only 14 at the time-he lied about his age)!


Francis added, "I'm thrilled that we did all that in the Philippines. I'm grateful that we didn't lose lives because, as I think back, what we did was far more dangerous: We were up in helicopters flying around. The Filipino people were generous and worked so hard for us! We did that dangerous production with honor, so I'm grateful. Salamat po!"

Which of his movies personally affected him the most? The Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning director quickly replied, "Definitely, 'Apocalypse Now.'

"That was the most dramatic personal experience I ever had, because I not only had all my money at risk, I was also making a film that was, artistically speaking, precarious. I was in new territory!

Tough experience

"But, I love all my films. It's like having seven children and someone asks, 'Who's your favorite child?' The most disadvantaged child is always the one you love the most. So, there are certain films whose value other people don't see much of. 'One from the Heart' was a tough experience. With 'Apocalypse Now,' I thought I was going to lose all my money. With 'One from the Heart,' I did lose all my money!"

"'The Conversation' is another film that I love the most, because I wrote and directed it. I've always wanted to be a writer-director-that was my greatest aspiration. I hope I can make some more of those films before I go off to the great vineyard in the sky!"