Los Angeles – There was almost an air of reverence when Eleanor Coppola, the 81-year-old wife of director Francis Ford Coppola and mother of filmmakers Sofia, Roman and the late Gian, walked into the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills for our interview.
She had this presence that demanded respect and silence… that she was somebody who had gems of wisdom that we had to really listen to and digest every word. We were right. She is a very wise woman.
The soft-spoken, genteel, white-haired award-winning filmmaker talked to us about her first feature length movie “Paris Can Wait,” and her experience in the Philippines when her hubby was doing “Apocalypse Now.”
Known for her award-winning and controversial 1991 documentary, “Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which is about the sensational events that surrounded the making of her husband’s “Apocalypse Now” (1979) which was filmed in the Philippines, Eleanor talked to us about her experience in the Philippines.
She recalled, “The Philippines was an incredible experience of my life. I guess if my life experience was about this wide, by the time I came back it was this wide or my experience with extreme heat. I’d never been in a place so hot. I’d never been away from home so long. Just many, many aspects of this tumultuous production. It was a beautiful country, lovely people, just great experience. I had never been in a tropical place where the coconuts are – we had to get out of the way because they might fall on your head. I had never seen that. It was a very interesting, just mind-bending, so broadening experience for me.”
Asked why it took her a long time to be able to finally do her first feature length movie, Eleanor explained, “It’s because I never thought of myself as being able to make a fiction feature. I’ve made documentaries. I’m a natural observer. That’s what I am comfortable in that role of just being the quiet one looking for opportunities to photograph something.
“I was at the Cannes Film Festival with Francis and at the end of it I had a bad cold and I went to the airport with him. We were supposed to fly – he was flying to Budapest and look at some studios and at the airport I just decided it’s really foolish for me to get on this little plane. I don’t know what’s going to happen so I said, ‘You know what, I realize I should take the train and go back to Paris.’ So, that was my plan and the gentleman who took us to the airport said well, I’m driving back now. Why don’t you just get in the car and go with me. It seemed very reasonable but it’s a seven hour drive and I felt I’d be there. (To make a long story short) it took two and half days to get to Paris and he had great fun showing this American woman his country and countryside.
“When I got home I was telling a woman friend and she said, ‘Oh, that’s the movie I’d like to see.’ I never ever thought of writing a fiction film but I had written a book and I was looking for something to write. I was in that kind of mood of why-the-heck-not kind of thing. So I got a program for my computer and started out to write a script. That was the beginning of the journey which took six years to raise money.”
The movie, we told her, was a beautiful reminder that we are too busy in unplugging. So what are the things in her life that can wait? She replied, “That’s what intrigued me about this trip is that it took me out of my routine, my schedule, my plans, my phone reception didn’t work at the time. I felt that’s what I wanted to convey with this film is that sense of that we’re all too tied to our electronic devices and we just don’t take time to smell the roses. I wanted to convey that – the great deep pleasure in nourishing the spirit that comes from taking that time. For me, it’s walking in nature and taking time out. I’ve been on this press junket in New York and here so I’m really longing to be back in Napa. I live in Northern California and walk in our vineyards and walk in my forest.”