Abel Ferrara: Don´t worry about films you are making, worry about the life you are livingWritten by Eva Csölleová, Vítek Formánek
Icon of American independent film Abel Ferrara was the guest of FebioFest 2017. He was kind of mercurial and at the beginning of press conference it seemed,.that he cares more about the copy of his film then about journalists who flocked in to ask him questions.He opened screening of his three films Welcome in New York, Pasolini and Bad Lieutenant.Our face to face interview was pretty quick, Abel was bit tired after doing all that stuff since lunch time so his answers were pretty short.
Miloš Forman sometimes said that artistic freedom in USA is somewhat limited. How do you view it?
Artistic freedom in America is virtually zero. He managed to build his own freedom but for me, that is the reason I live in Rome and work in Europe because the freedom here is much bigger and they appreciate directors much more. American film industry is big but thankfully because of technology people can make a film on their mobiles and put it on You tube, so they don´t have to get into this huge film mechanism. Hollywood is run by businessmen and it is similar situation like we have in White House. Respect to directors and film authors is nothing that would be coded into DNA system of American film industry.
Your film King of New York was partly filmed in one of the Donald Trump´s hotels. So you had to have some kind of cooperation with him, haven´t you?
I know the guy from the 90´s.I must admit that he always speaks his mind up and wears a heart on his sleeve, he doesn´t have any hidden agenda and he says what he thinks. At the time we were shooting King of New York, he didn´t allow anybody to shoot in Plaza Hotel. He allowed us to film there for one hour if Christophen Walken would pose for a picture with his the then wife Ivana. So you see how it works when star power meets establishment. Since film stars is the nation for themselves. Just take the relationship between Depardieu and Putin or Depardieu and Fidel Castro so this star power is limitless.
You have biblical name Abel, do you fight with Kain in your life and films?
At least I try to be a good brother. Abel is a strange name, I don´t know anybody who would be called that way. When I grew up in Bronx, there was this Italian-American tradition to name first son after it´s father. So this name was quite frequent in our family, cos all my cousins were names Abel l, Abel 2, Abel 3.So when I left Bronx, I realized how strange name I have.
Would you mellow your film idea if you realize you don´ t have big enough budget?
When I prepare a new film I have an idea what the budget should look like.And if I have to make too many compromises I would deeply think if it´s worthy to make such film with so many compromises. I don´t really care if my films have a low budget or not, about what I do care is, if the money I have, will enable me to film what I have in mind.
You are a Buddhist. Does it have some effect on your filming attitude or does it limit you somehow?
I don´t think you can strictly separate your personal life from your work. I started to take an interest in Buddhism about twelve years ago and it made a sense to me because it is a lot about finding compassion. Five years ago I stopped drinking and taking drugs because it doesn´t work together with Buddhism. You can´t get high and meditate. So it became part of my life.One of the lessons you learn in Buddhism is that it´s not just about reading, you have to have a teacher who transfers the ideas to you. In film, for me such teacher was Pier Paolo Pasolini, who I never met, so I made a film about him to get closer to my teacher through that.
So the fact we made the film in Rome, met his friends and his family made me get closer to him.
Is it important for you what kind of people come to watch your films and in which numbers?
I don´t judge an audience. Audience is the audience. Film wouldn´t exist without audience and through it the director contacts the people. You make your expression and your feelings known through the film. It hasn´t changed much since the paintings in the caves thousands years ago to mobile technology we have now. People always did it to connect with other people and express their feelings..
What was the trigger moment when you decided you wanna be a film maker? Did your parents support you and give you a dime for Sunday cinema?
I grew up in a world of 60´s which was world of movie and television. I grew up in very loving and caring family but my father never went to cinema. Probably it wouldn´t happen if the parents´ love wasn´t there.
In your first film Driller Killer you were starring yourself. Was it because you could not get or afford any actor for that or you tried to get as much experience from that job as possible?
No, if we had a right actor we would have definitely used him and we did try few actors. You know, in those days it could take a long time to make it cos some people weren´t available at the right time, we were shooting on the weekends so in the end I joined in as an actor cos I knew I will be there all the time. We didn´t pay the people, we didn´t know when we could shoot but we did know we want to make a feature film and I knew it will take God knows how long.
Your first films are often provocative and have drugs, sex and violence in it. It´s probably reality of life in Bronx. Do you think your films would have been different had you lived in say Florida or San Francisco but not in New York?
Films basically come from environment and this was part of life down town in Manhattan, you know. In late 70´s and early80´s.It was life full of crack, full of living without separating.
You yourself were on the drugs and booze. Do you think it put you back by many years in a way of being creative and fruitful film maker and you would have been much further now?
For me I had different relationship with alcohol and drugs. I haven´t seen anybody benefited from using them.I don´t think drugs changed me, I am who and what I am, my films are my film and drugs and alcohol affected people around me and it affected my ability to connect.
So were drugs destructive or creative for you?
It´s destructive in a way you don´t realize..
How do you direct actors? Do you give them freedom to say what they want as Woody Allen does or you insist on them doing what you want?
With every actor I have different relationship, it considers script or rehearsal, they are all different. It is important connection between two people..
So is it why you work with same bunch of people like Walken, Argo or Keitel?
The people you mentioned are joy to work with. If you get an opportunity to work with them you must try that. There is chemistry between us so that is why I try to use them often.
What do you try to say by your films: truth, your views, your feelings or you just entertain and freak people?
We just express ourselves. I am part of my audience so what I try to show them I show to myself, it´s part of the experience. I am a film maker and that is what I do, final result is my film.
You film Go Go Tales was either highly acclaimed or vehemently disliked. How come that one film can make such different reactions? Is it good or bad for you?
Every person in the audience is totally different they come from different place and different walks of life. You know you watch the movie and you love it, ten years later you watch it again and it doesn´t say anything to you. Or other way round you see a movie which is like anything else and ten years later it blows your mind off.
If 4/44 was reality and you would have last day on the Earth, what would you try to do and cram into last 24 hours?
In last 24 hours on this World I would love to be close to people I love and I would very much appreciate the time
You jumped from Hollywood films like Invasion of Body Snatchers to independent ones like Funeral and the Addiction.Is there difference only in a budget or you had different approach and creativity freedom?
Body Snatchers was really a Hollywood film. I had great experience from being in big studio, seeing the system and the whole process of film making.It was very very different..
You are actor, cinematographer, editor, producer. Is it a way to be for any would. Be independent film makers?
I was only actor in Driller Killer than God, I am member of the group, I am one of many. If you make a movie, it´s not about knowing all professions. It´s a process of group of people. If you had done all by yourself, you would get pretty claustrophobic.Now I only direct film, other people sell them.
You have many common topics with Woody Allen. Is he your idol, ally or competitor?
I love the guy and you are not gonna compete with him, he is just brilliant.We are fans, basically.