Filmmaking could not exist in Europe without the support of governments, veteran director Costa-Gavras told an audience at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Monday night.
At the same time, the Greek director of such politically-charged films as "Missing" and the Oscar-winning "Z," said that he supports French exclusionary laws that limit the amount of American television that can be shown on the air.
"If the state doesn't help, cinema cannot survive in Europe," the 80-year-old director said in a conversation with "The Hurt Locker" and "Zero Dark Thirty" screenwriter Mark Boal prior to a screening of his new film "Capital."
When Boal asked Costa-Gavras’ about the seeming contradiction of his support for the French regulations and his earlier comment during the session that “the state is an enemy,” the director shrugged it off. He traced the need to restrict American content to the World War II era, when the French film industry was crippled by the Nazi occupation.
“When France was liberated, hundreds of American movies came to France and took over,” he said.
Given how strong American cultural influence is today, he supports the right of European governments to promote homegrown art and control imported culture.
“When a French person goes to trial, they call the head of the court ‘Mr. President,'” he said. “But now, more and more they call him ‘your honor,’ because they’ve seen so many American serials.”
Costa-Gavras’ new film, which stars Gabriel Byrne and French comedian Gad Elmaleh, is the 21st in a career that began when the filmmaker left Greece in the early 1950s for France, where he studied literature at the Sorbonne but became interested in film when his friends took him to see works like Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed.”
He would have gone to the United States to study, he said on Monday, but he wasn’t allowed to go there because his father, a member of the Greek resistance during the war, was imprisoned afterwards as a suspected communist. (He has relatives in the U.S., including film director Penelope Spheeris, who is his cousin.)
In the hour-long conversation with Boal, the director summed up his attitude this way: “The role of art is to make visible what is not visible in society.”
He also agreed with Boal’s description of him as “a political filmmaker,” adding, “You are one, too.”
Boal resisted Costa-Gavras’ attempts to bring “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty” into the conversation, though it wasn’t hard to conclude that his own experiences with those films led to questions like the one he asked about criticism that generally follows politically-pointed work: “Do you feel a responsibility to defend your films against attacks?”
Costa-Gavras avoided that question, turning it into a criticism of movies like the “Rambo” flicks that found Sylvester Stallone wading into Southeast Asia to rescue lost POWs. “If you show that a guy with his muscles can win the Vietnam War,” said Costa-Gavras, “then you have a responsibility there, because the young people can believe you.”
He also said he felt a responsibility to talk about his movies, because it’s cheaper and more effective than buying advertisements. “If I come to Los Angeles and do an interview with the Los Angeles Times, I get a third of a page,” he said. “If I don’t, I get a small ad and it costs five thousand bucks.”
Money was very much on Costa-Gavras’ mind at LAFF, because “Capital” (below) is a film about money. A dark, blunt, stylish and sometimes overheated look at a newly-crowned CEO whose bank becomes entangled with a large American company seeking to manipulate markets and make billions while destroying a few companies and a few thousand lives, it was based on a book that predated the world financial crisis.
“For 10 years, I [wanted] to do a movie about money,” he said. “I found a book I liked very much. [And when] the world crisis arrived, I didn’t have to change anything.
“It’s probably one of the first movies I’ve made that I would like the audience at the end to be disturbed.”
“Speaking of money,” asked Boal, “if I find you the money, would you make another movie in America?”
“Yes,” said Costa-Gavras immediately.
After the Q&A, TheWrap asked Boal if he was seriously going to try to raise money. The Oscar-winning screenwriter and producer shrugged, but his eyes lit up.
“If I did, wouldn’t it be cool?” he said.