Famed director brings lessons and laughs to Santa Clara
The Santa Clara
January 24, 2019
After years of dreaming, a few months of intense planning and generous aid from the community, professor Michael Whalen finally got his wish: Francis Ford Coppola, acclaimed director of “The Godfather” (among other masterpieces) visited Santa Clara.
Despite the torrential rain pounding against the de Saisset Museum, Coppola—who once braved the tropical rainforests of the Philippines for more than a year to film “Apocalypse Now”—took the time to chat with students and members of the community for the sixth annual Vari Symposium.
Born in Detroit and raised by an artistic family (his mother was an actress; his influential father, a flutist), Coppola found creative ways to entertain himself as a child—especially when trapped in bed with a chronic case of polio.
Ultimately, this creative background translated into one of the most successful filmmaking careers in Hollywood history, with Coppola securing Oscars for his efforts on “Patton,” “The Godfather” and its sequel. He also won the elusive Palme d’Or for both “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now.”
Similarly to his struggles with polio as a child, Coppola fought with every fiber of his artistic being to bring these extremely personal films to the big screen. On Jan. 16, he shared his thoughts on his heritage, the state of cinema and most importantly, the hard-won value of remaining true to yourself.
The air in the museum sizzled with excitement when—feeling his way out from behind
the thick curtain of the museum’s stage—the needlessly modest Coppola, sporting a pair of mismatched polka-dotted socks, made his surprisingly humble entrance in front of a crowd of students, diplomats and Santa Clara higher-ups.
Thinner than his iconic representations but looking as hearty as a bottle of one of his red wines, Coppola started by discussing his third generation, Italian-American identity with professor Evelyn Ferraro.
“It was wonderful—I had the best of both [Italy and America],” he said. “We were having pizza at pizzerias before Americans knew what that was.”
For Coppola, Italian food—especially the “old recipes” continued by his forebears—acts as a vessel for honoring both his heritage and foundational, early family life.
As restless as his roving cameras, Coppola, always the director, shifted the conversation to film with Michael Whalen. He reiterated his genuine desire to speak with students of all interests about their cinema-centric questions.
Here, with this unanticipated and welcome audience engagement, the conversation became truly interesting.
“I never got a great performance out of anybody. They gave me the performance,” Coppola said, displaying his disarmingly selfdeprecative nature as he spoke to actors (and those who hope to one day direct them).
However, signs that the director understands his monumental status in film still shined through, such as when he explained how he doesn’t mind his copycats because it’s “through them you become immortal.”
On the subject of Santa Clara, Coppola quipped that he wished he could’ve been Jesuit educated. “Then I would’ve known Greek and Latin!” he said.
Throughout the conversation, the director continued to exhibit a keen interest in the lives and education of the students in attendance. He approached the state of modern cinema wearing the opposite of rose-colored glasses, noting matter-of-factly that “the wine industry is more exciting than the film industry.”
“I don’t have any regrets, but I have two,” he humorously noted toward the end of the discussion. He lamented not producing “One from the Heart” live, as he originally intended, but more relevantly, he wished he and his colleagues had handed down the film industry in “better shape” to the next generation.
In fact, throughout the talk, it seemed as if he was striving to impart as much advice as possible to help with his second regret.
In both cases, he wished that he and Hollywood had stuck to their guns, prioritizing their personal visions over the demands of the soulless industry.
He wanted students to be true to themselves, letting that zeitgeist shape their work.
“Modern arts are all canned—we live in a canned society,” he said, before encouraging young filmmakers to be “outrageously ambitious. Don’t tamp it down, don’t make it practical.”
When the clock on the conversation ran out, Coppola—now fully attuned to the room and eager to say more—asked the remaining students who hadn’t had a chance to ask a question to pool together and devise a particularly unanswerable question.
Evidently, he was enjoying the process and wanted it to last a bit longer.
“Come and replace us,” he told the wide-eyed creatives in the crowd.
Contact Brandon Schultz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.