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DOHA, Qatar – Insights into the past and future of the James Bond franchise from Skyfall scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and multiple appearances from Robert De Niro have added Hollywood star power to this year’s Doha Tribeca Film Festival in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar.
The fourth annual edition of the festival is the second of three major Middle Eastern festivals scheduled late in the year. The youngest of the three, the Doha event follows the 6th annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which ran Oct. 11-20, and comes ahead of the 9th Dubai International Film Festival, which is set for Dec. 9-16.
As Skyfall becomes the most successful Bond film in the franchise’s 23 title history, the British screenwriting duo on Monday confirmed their departure from writing duties after working on five Bond films, a relationship that started with Tomorrow Never Dies. “We were going to stop after Quantum [of Solace],” Purvis said, “but it feels nice to go out on a high with Skyfall.”
The duo delivered a masterclass on screenwriting Monday on the rooftop of the Al Rayyan Theater in Doha’s Souq, where they were sometimes interrupted by a local mosque’s call to prayers and a jet fighter roaring overhead. They noted that fellow Skyfall writer John Logan would write the next film for Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
“We’re very happy to have done five Bond movies, I think we’ve gotten it to a good place,” Wade said. “I know that John Logan and Sam Mendes have come up with a plot for another one, which takes the pressure off, because these films take up a lot of time.”
Addressing the production delays, which affected the third Daniel Craig outing as 007, the duo noted just how important the additional time proved to Skyfall‘s story. “We benefited from the delays as we hadn’t got the story right. The film would not have been made without them [those delays],” explained Wade.
“The third act wasn’t right. We gave ourselves a few weeks to come up with a new concept, which ultimately became a metaphor for our journey working on these movies – our own Skyfall,” added Purvis.
Other insights the duo provided included things that were considered off-limits when writing for the Bond franchise, such as killing off the hero and time travel.
The duo are moving into producing and have adapted J. G. Ballard‘s controversial novel Cocaine Nights for the big screen. Wade said he hoped to attach a director by the end of day Monday. “What time is it in L.A.?” he said as another jet roared overhead.
Across town at the swanky five-star St. Regis Doha hotel, Tribeca Enterprises chief creative officer Geoff Gilmore told The Hollywood Reporter that the Middle East’s movie industry and filmmaking ambitions stand at a critical juncture. Tribeca Enterprises has had a cultural partnership with the Doha Film Institute, of which the festival is a key part, for five years.
“There’s a seriousness of purpose to create a film culture here. I think that there is a kind of a sense that what is happening here [in the Middle East] is important and needs to be built on,” Gilmore said.
The relationship between Tribeca and Doha means films from Qatar and other Middle Eastern territories get the opportunity for slots in the annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York, while Tribeca helps with programming and attracting U.S. films to the Doha festival. “it has really evolved quickly,” Gilmore said.
The relationship with Tribeca also means that this year, Doha has enjoyed multiple appearances from actor and Tribeca Film co-founder Robert De Niro.
The screen veteran has taken to the festival’s red carpet in the bustling Souq twice, first for opening night film The Reluctant Fundamentalist as a show of support for the Qatari event over the weekend and then for Monday night’s Silver Linings Playbook, in which he stars alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
De Niro also participated in a Doha Talks event Sunday, something he has not done in his four years supporting the festival. He took to the stage in the city’s Al Rayyan Theater to discuss his career and bow to a standing ovation from an audience of locals and foreign industry professionals in town for the DTFF.
Many cheers and big applause greeted the actor when he confirmed that he would next be working with director Martin Scorsese on The Irishman with Joe Pesci and Al Pacino.
The normally tight-lipped actor, in the conversation with Gilmore, also discussed his 40-year-plus career at length. Gilmore poked and prodded De Niro for more than an hour about career highlights and even attempted a question about roles he has regretted taking. De Niro paused before declining to provide names. “I did them, so I have to accept responsibility for doing them,” De Niro said.
He later noted that picking favorites from his many career roles was every bit as difficult. “I always feel funny talking about my favorite part. It’s like talking about which one of your children you favor,” he said. “You just don’t do it in public.”
But he did take a moment to name-check filmmaker Darren Aronovsky, “someone I haven’t worked with,” and Luc Besson, “someone I have worked with,” as people whose work he enjoys, aside from his obvious picks of regular collaborators Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
He also took a moment to express regret that a plan to work with Leonardo DiCaprio had fallen through for timing reasons.
De Niro also volunteered that the pressures of working on independent-backed movies and those bankrolled by studio cash came down to the same thing — someone putting up the money always has an opinion that has to be listened to. “Indie filmmaking is just as hard as studio-backed filmmaking because you always have people breathing down your neck,” De Niro said. “The higher the budget, the higher the stress and pressure on you.”
And the actor also said he has absolutely no understanding for actors who may act up on the set if it’s not going well. “Life is too short and movies are too difficult to do,” he said, “so don’t bring any of that on set.”
The applause from the audience generated by his declaration of intent to make the film with Scorsese, Pesci and Pacino was only bettered when he said he had no intention of giving up acting. “I don’t see myself stopping really at this point,” De Niro said.
The DTFF runs through Nov. 24 and includes the Middle Eastern and North African premiere for Ben Affleck‘s Iranian-set hostage crisis film Argo before closing with Rise of the Guardians 3D.
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