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Serbian director Emir Kusturica has won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or twice, for When Father Was Away on Business in 1985 and Underground in 1995. He also has won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival for 1993’s Arizona Dream (starring Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway) and the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for 1998’s Black Cat, White Cat. His most recent feature, On the Milky Road, starring Monica Bellucci and the director himself, premiered in Venice in 2016.
But Kusturica has also caused debate and controversy, including by siding with Russia on its annexation of Crimea and by praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the recent edition of the Kustendorf Film and Music Festival, which Kusturica runs in the mountainous region of Serbia two hundred kilometers southwest of the capital Belgrade, The Hollywood Reporter talked to the filmmaker about the state of art house cinema, Hollywood sexual harassment scandals and (of course) Putin and Trump.
What film projects are you working on right now?
I’m working on a project called Just One More Time. It’s a story that I developed from one true story and two books. I believe that today, the character of Myshkin from [Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s] novel The Idiot can be combined with [his other novel] Crime and Punishment. And I believe that China is the best stage on which we could play the idea of breaching morality and finding ourselves in incredible and unbearable positions, which crush all moral links.
Today, I heard one American answer the question, “What is moral?” by saying, “What I like is what is moral.” If you say morality is just what you like, you lose the metaphysical level of what in the history of philosophy is called “categorical imperative.”
What happened to another project you were expected to direct, If Not Now, When?, based on Primo Levi’s book about Jewish partisans in World War II?
I’m still thinking about it. If immigration continues to be one of the main characteristics of social life in Europe, I will do it. It’s a story that comes from World War II, and I think it it would be very good to make kind of a combination of what was going on during World War II and what is going on now.
You’re running the Kustendorf festival without any glamour, without a red carpet. Is that your reaction to the commercialization of major film festivals?
The world is unbearable today. The world turns into exploitation of a degree that nobody in the 20th century could believe would be possible. Everything is exploited — men, women, festivals, films. There are not many places in the world where people who love cinema, who celebrate cinema, could join and spend time speaking and exchanging the energy, dancing and being in the center of this kind of existential heaven that we are trying to create here. That’s why we don’t have any symptoms of civilization, which is just exploiting every second of our life.
What is your take on the state of art house cinema globally?
I think Netflix will prevail because [with it], you could see all the movies you want to see for seven dollars, and you have to pay 11 euros to go to the cinema to see one movie. Also, technology will surprise us in the future. We are going to be able to transform the idea of cinema, unfortunately, into watching [a film] alone or with a few friends, but not in big theaters. My prediction is that cinema will end up like opera. Cinemas will be installed in big cities, or just one for each of the smaller cities, and the rest [of movie content] will be stretched in between mobile phones, laptops and television sets.
What do you think about the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal involving Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement?
They are bastards. They have known this for 25 years. I know this man, he’s been doing it for 30 years. Why [expose him] now? Most probably because the American political elite has changed, and he’s the worst man in the world now.
But he has been the worst man in the world for 30 years, not just for sexually harassing girls, but also for destroying independent cinema, transforming independent cinema into “dependent cinema.” If the Democrats had won and Hillary Clinton were President of the United States, this maniac would never be treated as he is today.
What is your opinion about U.S. President Donald Trump?
Trump [signifies] a pattern for a crisis in the United States. The United States is having a split between who really governs the nation and who is the president. We hear statements that are inappropriate, something that we never heard from the United States before. If they can’t solve a problem, they speak about something else that makes no sense and is not substantial.
You’ve been praising Russian President Vladimir Putin and once said of him: “If I was English, I would be very much against Putin. If I was American, I would even fight with him, but if I was Russian, I would vote for him.” Do you still stand by that quote? And what exactly are your relations with him?
Yes, I said that. My relationship with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is very clear: respect. We met a couple of times, once I received a medal from him. I respect hugely how he brought Russia back from its knees. All that they say against him [in the West] is purely fake.
Have you experienced any backlash in the West over your attitudes about Putin?
Absolutely. My most recent film On the Milky Road was at [the Venice Film Festival in 2016]. And when the jury discussed it, one member, an American, said the movie could not be considered for any awards, because it had elements of enemy of the West, which is not true. I’m not anti-American. I was raised to love both sides. But now we’re pushed so aggressively by the intelligence services, by the news to hate Russia. I am somebody who respects Putin highly, but I’m not somebody who is against America.
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