Dialogue: Costa-Gavras


In his role as Berlinale jury president, the Oscar-winning French writer/director/producer Costa-Gavras is making a return to Berlin -- this time on the other side of the fence. Several of the Greek-born filmmaker's movies have competed here in the past, most recently his Holocaust drama "Amen" in 2002. He scooped the Golden Bear in 1990 for the thriller "Music Box." His previous stint on a major festival jury was at Cannes in 1976, when the top prize went to another director due in Berlin this year, namely Martin Scorsese for "Taxi Driver," who presents his Rolling Stones documentary "Shine a Light" on the Potsdamer Platz on Thursday. Costa-Gavras talked to The Hollywood Reporter's Charles Masters about his approach to jury duty, his upcoming project and his view on contemporary cinema.

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The Hollywood Reporter: This is a return for you to Berlin. How do you feel about crossing the fence to be on the jury?
Costa-Gavras: You know, for years I have turned down all festivals because it's always difficult to judge other people's films. And when you like several films, you're always frustrated at the end to not be able to give an award to more than one. But when Berlin called me, they ended up convincing me. I have this sentimental relationship with Berlin, and with the German actors with whom I've worked. I spent a long time working in Germany for "Amen." All of that meant I accepted to do it.

THR: What kind of criteria will you apply in judging the films?
Costa-Gavras: No criteria. Aside from the criteria of a good film. That's all I believe in, a film's content and also the form. I've been told it's a year with a lot of good films so I'm very curious. But I'm coming at it with no prejudice for this or that school of cinema. I'd like there to be something innovative, no doubt about it, but I also like films that have something to say about our times. We're living in a period of history that is very turbulent, there are wars all over, there is poverty everywhere. I think cinema is a wonderful mirror that you can hold up to society. The film that talks about our world, our society, what's going on, its men and women, their dramas and their joy, too; that's what interests me. When it's well done and there's a good script. I believe a lot in the quality of the screenplay. I think that's fundamental.

THR: What stage are you at with your next film, "Eden is West"?
Costa-Gavras: The lead actor is a young Italian called Riccardo Scamarcio ("My Brother is an Only Child"). It's a road movie, the story of a young man who wants to come to Paris. The starting point is somewhere on the Mediterranean. I'm shooting in Greece because I found a fantastic spot in Crete with the most beautiful hotels. We start shooting at the end of March because we have to shoot in the Alps in the snow. And then we shoot on the French-German border, and then of course Paris because that's where a large part of the film takes place. There are some secondary roles, so I'm asking a few actor friends. It's a 10-12 week shoot on a budget of around 5-6 million euros.

THR: You have worked in both the European and American systems, which do you prefer?
Costa-Gavras: With age, I feel better here. There's a lot less money, but a lot more freedom. Especially since in the last 10-15 years, the studios intervene a lot more in the subject matter. Here we have a lot more difficulty, but a lot more freedom. Would I do another big American film? Yes, if the subject interested me. I wouldn't do just anything. I'm often offered action pictures, but if the Americans can make them, why ask me? It has to be something I'm really interested in, and into which I can put what I think and what I feel.

THR: What is your assessment of the current state of the film industry?
Costa-Gavras: My feeling is that with digital, we're entering into a revolutionary period. I think cinema experienced this once before in its history with the passage from silent films to sound. That turned everything on its head: actors, the way films were conceived, technicians, etc. I think we're entering - in a different way - into a period as turbulent as that. It begins with the conception of films. The aesthetic of films will change. In fact that has already started. The screening of films, theatres, everything, it's a total upheaval. Where all this is heading, I don't know. The possibility of watching films on mobile phones I think is tragic. To show films on a little screen like that is an utter absurdity.

THR: Do these changes inspire you?
Costa-Gavras: Absolutely. I intend to shoot my next film differently. I'm not shooting in digital because I think digital hasn't yet achieved the photographic quality that I'd like. But the fact that it's a road movie, I think I'll shoot it in a different way to my other films. Lighter, with more freedom, stealing images, capturing moments without too much rehearsal and so on. I had an interesting experience for (Laurent Herbiet's film) "Mon Colonel" (which Costa-Gavras produced in 2006). The people who financed the film asked me to be present on set in Algeria. A second director on set is always in the way, especially for the real director. So I took a little camera and I shot the "making of" for the film. It was a good experience because all of a sudden I discovered what you can do with a little camera. It's a wonderful freedom, and you capture moments that the actors have not thought of. I think it's something to exploit.