Rome Film Fest: Matt Dillon on Judging Films, His New Music Doc (Q&A)

Matt Dillon - Smile- Getty -H 2016
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The Oscar-nominated actor is heading to the Eternal City to head up the festival’s jury for its Alice in the City independent sidebar.

Matt Dillon, a frequent visitor to Italy, is returning to head up the jury for the Rome Film Fest’s young cinema sidebar Alice in the City. As president of the jury, Dillon will award the prize for best first or second feature.

The Academy Award-nominated actor next stars in the animated film Rock Dog, and in Zach Braff’s heist movie Going in Style, alongside Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin.

Dillon also has returned to the director’s chair after his 2002 debut City of Ghosts. He’s currently busy finishing his documentary on jazz music and Cuban soul legend Francisco Fellove, which he’s been working on for over a decade.

Dillon spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how a chance encounter with the great Federico Fellini cemented his love for the Italian capital, how he will approach judging the films and the joys of documentary filmmaking.

What is it about Rome that draws you to the city?

Since the moment I arrived in Rome in 1983, it’s always been a very special place for me. The cinematic history is a big part of that. I remember riding around on a Vespa when I was 19 years old and randomly meeting Fellini on the street while he was filming Ginger and Fred.

He embraced me and invited me to have lunch with him the next day at Cinecitta. Special moments like that always kept me wanting to come back to Rome. Rome always held that magic for me, and over the years I’ve formed very special bonds with people there.

As an actor, what do you look for when you judge other people's works?

It's always a little difficult to judge because I feel like there's so much to learn. I listen a lot and I like actors capable of transformation. I adore difficult roles and I think an actor must be a mirror; when I see a film, I need to recognize myself in the character. This is, of course, one of the things I care about.

What are you looking forward to at the festival this year? 

I look forward to the opportunity to work with my fellow jurors and to learn something and be inspired from the films I see. I'm especially curious about young actors just starting out. Festivals are important for their presentation and for discovering new talents.

Alice nella Citta also has a jury of 27 young adults to award a competition prize. What could you learn from the young jury members? 

I definitely will have a lot to learn from this experience. Hopefully there will be time for the two juries to meet and discuss cinema together. It's very stimulating to work with young people, understand their thoughts and discover their world.

You next star in Rock Dog. What was appealing about making an animated film? 

Dubbing an animated film was a lot of fun for me and I think it's fundamental to make movies for young viewers who are the audiences of the future.

Many festivals are debuting TV works now that rival cinema in terms of scale and scope. Do you have a preference for one or the other? 

Today the movies offer many interesting products but entertainment always wins. Personally, I love art house films and I have to say that right now, many writers are working in television and it seems like TV has moved ahead of cinema, but it's hard to choose between the two media.

There are a couple of actors-turned-directors competing for the TaoDue prize this year. Are you currently working on any directing projects? 

I love acting and directing, as well, and now I’m currently working on a documentary about Afro-American music and a Cuban singer who played in the '40s. He was a sort of Ella Fitzgerald, and his music was able to influence American jazz music. He was called El Gran Fellove and was an undisputed talent. This documentary holds two of my passions: jazz and cinema. What’s great about shooting a documentary is having the chance to work on it and then leave it for a while and then again coming back to the project. It’s more than 11 years since I first started working on it and now the movie is in postproduction.