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Francis Ford Coppola, 30 Years After His Apocalypse

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola

The last time Francis Ford Coppola allowed his wife Eleanor to film one of his cinematic efforts, she captured the director on the edge of panic, as he grappled with production crises, spiraling costs – even a typhoon – to make “Apocalypse Now.”

The result, released some 15 or so years after the fact in 1991, was “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse.

“I call it ‘Watch Francis Suffer,’” Coppola told a packed house at the Miller Theater on May 19th. “I was desperately frightened – I risked everything I had.”

Wouldn’t it be nice, he thought, if audiences could “see what that weird guy was like 30 years later” after he “got himself in a situation where he could make any movie he liked?”

The result is “Coda: Thirty Years Later,” a documentary once again filmed and produced by his wife about the making of Coppola’s forthcoming film Youth Without Youth, starring Tim Roth. Almost 700 students packed into the Miller Theater to view this update on the self-described “that weird character,” which was followed by a lengthy question and answer period with the legendary director.

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola with Annette
Insdorf, professor and director of undergraduate film studies at
Columbia's School of the Arts.

The event was the season finale to the School of Arts’ Carla Kuhn Guest Filmmaker Series, which brings influential filmmakers to campus every week during the school year to talk about their work. Already, some counted this year’s series among the most successful.

In addition to Coppola, audiences were treated to post-screening discussions with several other film luminaries. Werner Herzog screened a film called “Rescue Dawn;” Arthur Penn, who directed “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Little Big Man,” screened his 1975 classic “Night Moves;” and director Guillermo Del Toro screened “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Other guests included Stephen Frears, who directed “The Queen;” Tom DeCillo, writer and director of “Living in Oblivion;” legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Mayles, and even Molly Shannon, star of “Year of the Dog.”

But it was the Coppola event that proved most exciting of all for many students. Roberto Bentivegna, a second-year MFA film concentrate and the recipient of Carla Kuhn Guest Speaker Fellowship, was in charge of booking the speakers. Coppola was at the top of his list from the beginning.

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola

“He was one of the few people that may actually go through the Hollywood system and survive it and make strange, very personal films,” Bentivegna says. “At this point he’s 68 and he’s got this huge legacy.”

At the event, Coppola spoke about his desire to “become that elderly retired man that doesn’t play golf, but makes art films.” He said he was seeking a second youth, and praised that ingredient that gives every young filmmaker an advantage – ignorance. “Because you wouldn’t attempt half the stuff if you knew how hard it would be.”

Risk-taking, Coppola opined, is key to success.

“What you do as a filmmaker is throw your heart out there and then you go out and get it,” he says, “and it will be interesting and the money will come without even thinking about it.”

Coppola said that the best part of film school for him, was “access to equipment,” “that one special professor who took special interest in you and gives you a little more time,” and “hanging out on the porch with other students and arguing about what was good.”

– Written by Adam Piore. Photographs by David Wentworth. Special advance story from The Record.

Published: May 30, 2007
Last modified: May 30, 2007