A defining moment in a day

THESSALONIKI – An open discussion of art and cinema held at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday turned out to be something of a family reunion as Francis Ford Coppola, a guest of organizers Attiki Cultural Society and the 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, turned up with his family to visit his longtime friend and collaborator Dean Tavoularis, in town for an extensive exhibition of his film and art work at the museum. «Working with Francis through the years,» said the celebrated production designer, «well… it has become like a marriage. There were times I worked with other directors when I felt like I was committing adultery. Of course there were also times when we wanted to strangle each other. But it was a wonderful relationship and still continues, exemplified by the fact that he came all the way to Thessaloniki for this exhibition, with his family.» Tavoularis has worked with Coppola since 1972, starting with the first installment of «The Godfather,» on 13 films, as well as working with his son, Roman, on 2001’s «CQ.» «Dean has definitely had an influence on me, and on my family,» said Coppola. «He used to come over for dinner when the children were growing up… He has had an influence on their aesthetic too.» Sofia Coppola, the director’s daughter and an award-winning filmmaker herself – who, incidentally, was also a flower girl at Tavoularis’s wedding – asked her father and Tavoularis to reminisce on how they met. Tavoularis said that at the time Francis Ford Coppola was a young director who was looking for production designers to do «The Godfather.» A producer friend of the designer, who had already made a reputation with films such as «Bonnie and Clyde» and «Zabriskie Point,» urged him to read the novel by Mario Puzo and fly from Europe to New York to meet with Coppola. «I went to his hotel room and knocked on his door,» reminisced Tavoularis. «A young man appeared, wearing a hotel bathrobe and eating a pastry; I think it was chocolate… Ever since then I have always thought, ‘What if I hadn’t gone to that meeting?’… It’s amazing how a quirk in a day’s schedule can change your life… We started working together, looking for locations in New York. At first I wasn’t very impressed with the whole project. I thought it was going to be just another gangster movie… But, everything Francis said was so exciting, and it progressed that way.» From his side, Coppola remembers having liked Tavoularis’s work in «Bonnie and Clyde,» and admitted to having learned a lot from his collaborator and friend over the years. The discussion, which was coordinated by journalist Yiannis Zoumboulakis, drew a capacity crowd – among which were Thessaloniki International Film Festival President Georges Corraface and director Despina Mouzaki, as well as celebrated Greek filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis and a sizable smattering of Greek socialites. It was followed on the same evening by a special ceremony at the Olympion film theater, during which Coppola was presented with an honorary Golden Alexander before a screening of «Apocalypse Now: Redux,» one of the 13 films on which Coppola and Tavoularis worked together, as well as with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who headed the International Jury of the TIFF. All three won an Oscar for the original 1979 version. Zoumboulakis asked the two artists to comment on Jean-Luc Godard’s quote that you have to be »young and foolish» to do cinema because with age you come to learn how many things can go wrong. «You have to be foolish to live life,» responded Coppola. «We have to stay young at heart and spirit.» Tavoularis also rejected the idea that filmmakers have to be young. «You can plunge into any film project at any point in your life,» he opined. Greek ties Embarking on new projects brought on the subject of why Coppola had not made a new film for a decade, though the director did come to Greece from Bulgaria where he is in the process of working on «Youth Without Youth,» a World War II drama starring Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz. «The first thing about making a film is the subject matter,» he explained. «You have to find a subject you are interested in… I have spent my time reading and writing, and working in other sectors, such as winemaking and the hotel business, so that when I do find a project that interests me, I won’t have to ask anyone for money. I find it easier to make the money myself than to find someone who’ll risk their money in a project.» Veteran filmmaker Michael Cacoyannis joined in the discussion by pointing out that it seems Coppola has a thing for working with Greeks; he reminded Coppola that he had collaborated with Vassilis Fotopoulos on «You’re a Big Boy Now» in the mid-’60s, after the latter had worked as art director on «Zorba the Greek.» «I always work with Greek production designers,» quipped Coppola, adding that his family hailed from southern Italy, or Magna Graecia, where, he said, «we were surrounded by names like Archimedes.» Coordinator Zoumboulakis called the two artists an «inseparable duo,» and said «Tavoularis used his imagination to create the images Coppola had in his mind.» Seeing the bond that connects these two formidable artists, and the wonderful fruit this bond has yielded over the years, one wonders how different the landscape of cinema would have been if Tavoularis had not turned up to that appointment. «Dean Tavoularis: Production Designer, Painter, Architect, Art Director, Actor» is on display at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, in the Helexpo center, until January 10, 2006.

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