Directing today’s grand epic adventures: away from the studios and into the desert

Starting out as an actor in Bollywood before turning to directing, Shekhar Kapur became widely known with his critically acclaimed «Elizabeth.» Starring Cate Blanchett and Joseph Fiennes, the film was a powerful portrait of the life and times of Queen Elizabeth I. Born in Lahore in 1945, Kapur’s directorial credits also include «Bandit Queen,» based on the life of Phoolan Devi, who was persecuted by Indian police and hailed as a modern-day Robin Hood by the Indian press. The director’s most recent feature, «The Four Feathers» (already in its second week of local screenings), is once again based on British subject matter. Starring Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley and Kate Hudson, the story unfolds toward the end of the 19th century, as a young British officer resigns from his regiment, refusing to go to fight in the Sudan. After his friends and fiancee offer him four feathers, as a symbol of his cowardice, he embarks on his own adventurous trip to Sudan, to prove them wrong. Kathimerini met Kapur at the Dauville Film Festival recently, where he shed some light on why he chose to work on a story based on Britain’s colonial past. Did you encounter any difficulties when dealing with political references in «The Four Feathers?» When it comes to this kind of movie, where there are political references, you must be very careful with what you say and what you don’t say. The truth is that there were fewer references in the original story. I tried to use a few phrases in the script to show, for instance, that the slave helps the British man because he is going against all his fellow Africans who are engaged in slavery. In «Elizabeth,» I was dealing with a true story based on historical facts. «The Four Feathers» script, on the other hand, is based on a book and a fictional story, though there are references to that era’s reality. So, the challenge for me was to take one of the most colonial stories ever written and to make it anti-colonial – considering that all previous film versions had been far too attached to the book. Were there any more challenges? I wanted to relive the great adventure of filming, and so we shot in Morocco. In today’s modern film productions, even when they involve an epic story, there seems to be no magic left, because everything is planned right from the start. Both the studios and the directors feel much safer when everything is organized in advance. That is not the cinematographer’s nature, however. When you go to the desert, you throw yourself into the unknown and you don’t have all those studio people breathing down your neck. I felt that the whole idea was appropriate also because the film’s story is about this young man who embarks on his first journey and comes to face chaos. At the very beginning, a lot of people were saying that the film ought to resemble «Lawrence of Arabia.» It took two years to shoot «Lawrence of Arabia.» Meanwhile, we had only three months, and so I had to come up with other solutions. Was the situation similar to when you were filming «Elizabeth?» As a movie, «Elizabeth» was far more planned, though there was an exception to this. I had driven the actors to chaos. I believe that harmony comes as a result of total chaos. And so, in the case of «Elizabeth,» the end result was decent. Given your success with «Elizabeth,» were you anxious to see how people would react to «The Four Feathers?» I wasn’t that worried about box-office success or getting good reviews. My concern had more to do with how the audience was going to perceive the movie. This is not a film about cowardice. For me, the lead character’s fear means courage, one man’s inner journey from immaturity to wisdom. This is something we all have to face. We wake up every morning with our fears, and then spend the rest of the day hiding them. Thankfully, people understand that. Having worked extensively in Bollywood, what do you think of the industry becoming so fashionable? In my opinion, Bollywood’s enduring power is that it is the only national film industry which managed to survive opposite Hollywood for so long. At the same time, there are a number of countries out there these days which have a powerful cinematic presence. This is because they are making movies people can identify with. Have you already thought of your next film? It is something I have been working on for the past three years. It is about the life of Nelson Mandela. What kind of nerve does it take to put his entire life into a three-hour movie? How can I show all those years he spent in prison, for instance? I know exactly what kind of story I want to narrate, but I must find out what I need to say and what I should leave out. And that, once again, has to do with politics. This interview has been translated from the original Greek version.

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