Lee says he is not part of the 'mainstream'


ROME -- Spike Lee, in Tuscany, Italy, to scout locations for his next film and to receive the 41st Fiesole Master of Film Award, took swings Monday at Hollywood for its portrayal of black characters, at Washington for its foreign policy and at the film industry in general for leaving him on the outside looking in.

Lee was introduced to a standing-room-only news conference at the Hotel Villa San Michelle in Fiesole, just outside Florence, by town Mayor Fabio Incatasciato and a handful of other local figures who praised the director's work. But there was no shortage of opinions once Lee started speaking.

Said the two-time Oscar nominee, here for preproduction work on his latest project, "Miracle at St. Anna," a $45 million World War II drama set in Italy: "My last feature film, 'Inside Man,' was my most successful so far, and I was naive enough to think that that meant I could go from there and make any film I wanted to make. But I was very, very wrong about that. Anybody who thinks that I've become part of the mainstream doesn't understand the way it works."

Lee sparked laughter several times by saying he would only win an Oscar when he was so old he would have to be pushed onstage in a wheelchair and threatening to fine two photographers whose cell phones rang during the hourlong briefing.

"On my set, the rule is that if your phone goes off while we're shooting, that's $50 in my pocket," he said.

Lee said "Miracle" -- which will be his first film shot mostly outside of the U.S. -- would be the first WWII film to feature a largely black cast.

"I'm a big fan of World War II movies, but up until now I've only seen two that featured any black soldiers," Lee said. "There was Jim Brown in 'Dirty Dozen' and (James Edwards), who was Gen. Patton's valet in 'Patton.' I know we can do better than that."

Commenting on Washington, Lee said there had been no war since WWII in which the U.S. had been involved that he would consider a "just" war.

Lee said he has been to Italy at least 20 times over the past two decades and has wanted to make a movie in the country for years. The opportunity arose three years ago when he read the James McBride novel "Miracle at St. Anna."

"I'm a storyteller, and so I needed a story," Lee said. "I knew I had it when I read the novel."

Lee said McBride already has produced three "strong" drafts of the screenplay for the film, which will be filmed using U.S., Italian and German actors, with a mostly Italian crew. Filming will take place in Tuscany, Rome's Cinecitta Studios and New York.

Lee was well received by the Italian crowd, including Fielsole's Incatasciato, who recalled seeing Lee's 1989 classic "Do the Right Thing" in nearby Florence as a young man.

On Tuesday, Incatasciato will be among the dignitaries on hand to present Lee with the Masters of Cinema Award. Traditionally a European prize given in recognition of a director's body of work, Lee will be just the third American awarded the prize in 41 years, joining Orson Wells (1974) and Stanley Kubrick (1983).

Other notable Fiesole Master of Cinema award winners include "Death in Venice" director Luchino Visconti (1966), master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock (1979), Japan's Akira Kurosawa (1986), Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman and Wim Wenders of "Buena Vista Social Club" fame (1994).