It was telling that a roundtable interview with Francis Ford Coppola ended with a great deal of enthusiasm… about his vineyards. And much of it was from the director himself, who slyly countered one of the assembled journalists’ praise of his Cabernet Sauvignon with “maybe I should offer an associate producer credit for people buying my wine.”
Of course, it was the fruit of Coppola’s estimable winery that financed “Tetro,” but the film itself appears to be a product of a filmmaker who’s become richer with age, though the clearer focus he now has as an artist has produced a feature that might seem less so for some audiences. Like his last film, “Youth Without Youth,” “Tetro” is aggressively unconventional, using crisp black and white cinematography to tell the tale of the Tetrocinis, an estranged family of artists. The youngest son (Alden Ehrenreich) feigns a leave of absence from military school, much like Coppola did in his youth, in order to seek out his mercurial older brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo) in Buenos Aires. The result is reminiscent of Picasso’s “Guernica,” if it were applied to family dynamics — bold and confrontational, tempered with flashbacks of the family’s painful past, occasionally in color, and splashed with scenes of ballet shot in vivid reds and blues, all brought together with the command of a master filmmaker.
Coppola himself wouldn’t agree with that last part — in the roundtable, he repeated what he told his longtime friend and editor Walter Murch, that his intention with going to Argentina to shoot “Tetro” was “to learn how to make movies,” a renewed perspective on filmmaking that gives some context to recent interviews where he’s suggested there never should’ve been a sequel to “The Godfather” or that this is the start of “a second career.” Afterward, I got a few brief moments to talk to Coppola and Ehrenreich, who was said to have been discovered by Steven Spielberg at a bar mitzvah, about Coppola’s decision to self-distribute and why film is a still a young art form.
You’ve dipped your toe into self-distribution with the college tour for “Coda” and the re-release of “One From the Heart” — what was it about “Tetro” that made you think this was the way to go?
Francis Ford Coppola: It was really not so much about distribution. The film has only been finished for about four weeks — we finished it just before Cannes. I didn’t want to show it unfinished to distributors, and that’s a very naughty thing because they never want to see it together and you’ve got to show it to one first, then you can’t say you showed it to the other guy, and then if you show it to one first and they don’t take it, then everyone knows they didn’t take it. It’s just a nightmare to get involved. So I decided I would only show the film to distributors when it was finished and just go to Cannes and show it to everybody.
But what happens with independent films is they tend to release them at the end of the year because they feel they need action for prizes and things, which I don’t think they do. I think that’s already an old fashioned idea. I wanted the film to come out as soon after Cannes as possible in the spring, so I picked the date June 11th, which is my father’s birthday, and by doing that, obviously, there was no distributor, so we just started to book the theaters and had to make the web site and the poster and the trailer, so that’s what distribution is.
Also, I didn’t want the film to come out in November because if I did, then I’d be doing PR all year, which is what the distributor wants you to do. June 11th is good because there’s all the big summer pictures, there aren’t a lot of independent films out, so we maybe have a better chance, even with critics, that they would be able to not have to write a review every three hours and they’d be able to think about it.