Martin Scorsese Calls on Theater Owners to Bring True Indie Films ‘Back to the Multiplex’

CinemaCon 2023: “Killers of the Flower Moon” director chatted with star Leonardo DiCaprio about how cinema influences the next generation

Martin Scorsese Powell and Pressburger
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Martin Scorsese sat down one-on-one at CinemaCon with Leonardo DiCaprio, the star of his new film “Killers of the Flower Moon” about the past and future of cinema.

The new film, which tells the story of the murder of Osage natives in the 1920s by oil tycoons looking to take over their resource-heavy land, is the first Scorsese film since 2016’s “Silence” to get a full theatrical release. It comes out at a time when escapist films have been making money as much as ever at the box office while smaller, independent films have largely struggled to find their way back.

Despite this, Scorsese expressed his hope to movie theater owners in attendance that they can find a way to bring back those smaller films to the biggest multiplexes around the world “for the good of all of us.”

“I know the big movies bring in the big audiences. I remember in the 1950s that there were films like ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ and they were so much fun but there were other movies that could run in theaters that were beautiful and at least somewhat comfortable,” Scorsese said.

“But I want to call on you to think about this: someone must find a way to bring independent films back into the multiplex,” he said. “It’s going to make a difference to the movies that you show in your theaters in the coming years…one of these people who sees them, whether they’re 19 or 15 or 25, they’ll become artists and novelist and musicians and filmmakers and maybe one of them might make the next blockbuster that will carry theaters and this industry through the next crisis.”

Scorsese is a living example of the power movies can have to influence the next generation of filmmakers. He discussed with DiCaprio his many memories of watching movies both in theaters and at home at various stages of his childhood.

“I was a very sickly child and they didn’t know what to do with me, so they brought me to the movies.” he said. “At the age of 5, the movies were a fantasy. There was a network that showed Italian films for the Italian community in Queens. There seemed to be no difference between the people in those movies and my grandparents who were crying. It was a technology that was delivering a truth to the people in the room with me.”

He said that as a teenager, his development as a filmmaker began by seeing “Citizen Kane” when he was 15, and he became aware of the techniques being used in cinematic storytelling. DiCaprio noted that he once saw an interview by a young Orson Welles who admitted that he didn’t know anything about filmmaking when he worked on “Kane.”

“Sometimes the best thing you can bring to a movie…is ignorance!” Scorsese said. “Guys like Welles didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t know the rules, and so they ended up rewriting them.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” marks the sixth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, a partnership that began in 2002 with “Gangs of New York” and which earned DiCaprio a pair of Oscar noms with “The Aviator” and “Wolf of Wall Street.”

In the new film, DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, a man who married an Osage woman named Mollie and fell in love with her. Yet their marriage was part of a conspiracy by cattle tycoon William Hale to take the oil-rich land given as a reservation to the Osage for their own profit, and soon Ernest is called upon to become part of a plot to kill Mollie.

Scorsese and the cast, which includes Robert De Niro, Jesse Plemons and indigenous actor Lily Gladstone, filmed the movie in many of the same buildings and towns where the Osage murders took place nearly a century ago and heard the stories of those who were affected by them. While the murders were famous for being the first major case investigated by the FBI, Scorsese believed that the true story lied with the Osage and their assailants.

“My interest was in how, as a human being, some of these people could have done what they did yet accepted it within themselves and rationalized it as ‘It’s civilization. One group comes in and another goes out,’” Scorsese said. “So I wanted to make a movie where instead of being with the good guys, the FBI who put an end to it, let’s go into the world of the people who lived there and did these things.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and will be released by Paramount on October 6.