EXCLUSIVE: If you’re an Al Pacino fan and are attending the Venice International Film Festival, circle Sunday, Sept. 4 on your calendar. On that day, Pacino will be awarded the Jaeger-Le Coultre Glory to the Filmmaker 2011 Award, presented to an artist who has left an original mark on contemporary cinema. Right after Pacino receives the award, he will preside over the world premiere of the third film he has directed, Wilde Salome. The documentary explores the complexity and Pacino’s passion for the Oscar Wilde play Salome. The film, which will be released in the fall, stars Pacino as Herod, Jessica Chastain as Salome, and Kevin Anderson as John the Baptist. Barry Navidi and Robert Fox produce with Salome Productions. In its five-year history at Venice, the Glory to the Filmmaker Award has been awarded to Takeshi Kitano, Abbas Kiarostami, Agnes Varda, Sylvester Stallone and Mani Ratnam.
Q&A With Brit Producer Jeremy Thomas: “My Advice To American Filmmakers Is To Marry A European. I’m Not Kidding.”
At a time when the UK film industry seems increasingly inward-looking, a recurring theme of the 46 films which Jeremy Thomas has produced has been cross-cultural — whether it’s Japanese director Takeshi Kitano looking at America in Brother (2000) or Bernardo Bertolucci retelling Chinese history in the Best Picture Oscar-winner The Last Emperor (1987). He also exec-produced Takeshi Miike’s 13 Assassins, which competed at Venice last month and will work on Miike’s next pic. Thomas specialises in filming the un-filmable, whether William S Burrough’s novel Naked Lunch or JG Ballard’s notorious Crash or his latest plan: a pic about North Korean dictator Kim-Jong il. Currently in post on David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Thomas gave the keynote interview at Wednesday’s Film London Production Finance Market as part of the BFI London Film Festival which is where I interviewed him.
As the former chairman of the British Film institute, he urged the British government to reconsider rejoining European super fund Eurimages to boost co-productions and had harsh words for UK leaders: “The problem with these politicians is that they’ve never made a film. They’re planning the war but they’ve never been in the trenches and had their faces splattered with blood. But when it comes to movies everybody thinks they’re an expert. It wouldn’t happen in any other business.” Thomas unlike most producers owns the rights to his films and believes that should be the endgame of any independent moviemaker. (He even owns the freehold on his office building.) He launched his own sales agency Hanway Films in 1998, which has become one of the biggest in the market. “Raising the money, shooting the film, distributing it – it’s all a nightmare,” the 61-year-old said. “But it’s better than working.”
Deadline London: Given the kind of films you make, are you disheartened by the state of filmmaking in Hollywood today?
Jeremy Thomas: Even the people who run the studios themselves – and some of them are friends of mine — when they go home at night, are dismayed that they entered a business in which they’re doing such unoriginal work. If you look at Hollywood’s output over the past decade there’s a very small percentage of original work. It’s all remakes, sequels, prequels. What you have going on in world cinema today is like a peanut compared to the 1970s. You look at the films made then compared with the films being made today – they’re thin and empty. I don’t think anybody came into the movie business to be unoriginal and plagiarising and not having an original idea in their brain. The studios are financially moribund. They are worried about their financial model because they have to spend so much money on marketing costs. Digital exhibition hasn’t saved any money. I’m still waiting to see this digital dividend.