With his Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now due out in a DVD set this month and production of his next movie, Youth Without Youth, completed, Academy Award--winning director, vintner and hotelier Francis Ford Coppola talks with TIME's Rebecca Winters Keegan about why all war movies are antiwar movies, what grapes have done for his filmmaking career and what he has learned from his daughter, Oscar-winning screenwriter Sofia Coppola.
You say you never thought of Apocalypse Now as an antiwar movie. If this isn't an antiwar movie, what is?
All war movies are antiwar movies in that they describe horrible incidents and the most profound thing of all, to lose a young person. But I was more interested in examining the idea, from Heart of Darkness, that society could send people in to kill on behalf of some moral ideal.
The DVD contains the 1979 version of Apocalypse Now and the longer Redux version, released in 2001. Which do you prefer?
I like it longer. When it first came out, it was supposed to be a Hollywood war movie, but the first people saw it and said, "This is surreal." I got sort of shy, and so we cut it. Years later, I was in a hotel room in London and it came on, and I watched and I thought, "Hey, this isn't strange at all." I realized that over the years we, the audience, had changed.
Making Apocalypse Now almost killed you. As a young director, did you think art was worth dying for?
I was forlorn and frightened, but reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated. The Godfather was equally tough because I had little kids and I was always on the verge of being fired. Is art worth it? Probably yes.
What percentage of your films is the product of happy accidents?
Art is partly being available to accidents that fall into your lap. The ideal way to work on a project is to ask a question you don't know the answer to.
You say you would like to make "little" films now. Is this a promising time for directors with that ambition?
The movie industry is interested in films that can have sequels--"tent poles," they call them. But theoretically, every work of art is unique. My generation wanted to make personal films. A Fellini film was a Fellini film, and no one else could have made it. In wine, we call it terroir--wine speaks of the earth it comes from.
With your wealth and Hollywood stature, surely you of all people can make a personal film.
I'm fortunate to have made it in other industries, like the resort industry and the wine industry, so I could finance a small film myself every couple of years and have my dream come true. And that's what I aspire to do.
Is Youth Without Youth a "little" film?
It's a story by Mircea Eliade, a Romanian writer, that I found provocative. It wasn't about undercover cops. It was about consciousness. It starts in 1938 and runs through the Second World War and goes from Bucharest to Switzerland to India to Malta. It's a big movie in terms of tackling the production. But I financed it through my wine business, and I took a page from Sofia's--my daughter's--book where she had made Lost in Translation for just a modest amount.
I was going to ask you what you have taught Sofia about filmmaking, but perhaps I should ask what she's taught you?