Abel Ferrara, one of the participants of the festival, an American filmmaker, known for his provocative and often controversial content in his films, has spoken about his movies, as well as his attitude towards movie funding and his idea of Buddhism.
Sputnik: Movie researcher Robin Wood has put forward a theory that horror films always deal with our notions of normality. The protagonist of a horror film is usually in a conflict against the traditional way of life. My question is, why have so many of your movies have been shot in the horror genre? What, if anything, are you protesting?
Abel Ferrara: I don't know why there's a different answer for each one. We did the 'Body Snatchers,' which was a kind of a sci-fi movie, it was presented to us, and we agreed to do it. Just growing up in America, I think, makes you see films in certain ways, it's cowboy movies, it's police, it's gangster movies… So, when you say that the protagonists are normal persons thrown into this abstract world … All of a sudden, I'm a traditionalist, and now I realise that half of the people are Martians.
Again, the 'Body Snatchers' is horror, that's a genre, and some of the people I'm talking to are actually Martians, they are not human beings. And it's a great premise for a movie if you think about it. People are exactly what they are, number one, but people are acting like they're something they are not. Like, how do I know you two are journalists? How do you know I'm Abel Ferrara? So, once you take it to the level "am I really from Earth?" once you open your mind, it's like in 'Tommaso'"Okay, this person is your wife; but is she really your wife, is she really your partner?"
Well, yesterday she was my wife, but that doesn't mean that you're going to be my wife today; maybe I should check with her. Considering how many marriages break up anyway, how many relationships stay the same? Zero. Relationships are constantly changing; so, as a protagonist, you're constantly in a world that's changing, you're changing, and now you've got to focus on that. When you start putting things in a metaphorical secret-agent movie, where I'm really an agent for the CIA acting like a movie director, it's all that kind of stuff.
Sputnik: Your name is inevitably associated with New York, where the action in most of your films takes place. Apparently, this city means something special to you. Why did you move to Rome, and why does the action in the film "Tommaso" unfold there?
Abel Ferrara: I grew up in New York, and I spent a lot of time there. I also spent time in other places; I lived in Los Angeles for a while, I had been working for 15 years before I made three or four movies there. The last movie ... brought me to Rome, and that's when I met Christina, and we had a baby. We just live there now, we're just living there. And also, living in Europe for me, as a filmmaker, is much freer; I can make the films I want to make with the people I want to make them.
It's much different from the film business in New York or the US. That's one of the reasons I'm in Rome. As for 'Tomasso', the nature of the film is that's it's about a foreigner, an American living in Europe, struggling with the language, struggling with the culture… I'm an Italian of American descent, my family is from the south of Italy. Rome for me is a lifestyle; it's a city that's three thousand years old, so there's culture, and there's the reality; the food is better, which means a lot to me, the mindset is better…
I just happen to be there. And also, there're certain cities for a filmmaker that are places where films get made, LA, New York, Rome- it's the film set of Southern Europe.
Sputnik: Talking about low-budget movies that are also inextricably associated with you, where do you get the funding for your movies? And how do you see the future of low-budget independent cinema?
Abel Ferrara: For 'Tomasso' we got the money from a friend of mine. Lately, the money in Europe is done through the Ministry; in Italy where I am but also in other countries. So, the European Union really is the source of the funding. The last movie I did was 'Pasolini,' it was in France, some ...in Germany, the last movie was in Germany and in Mexico.
So, it's a government way of financing movies. But's it's because 'Siberia' has a bigger budget and 'Pasolini' has a bigger budget, 'Tomasso' is not such a big budget. So, I think the future of financing of films, it's by all means possible, via however you can do it, from Netflix and Amazon, the Ministries, rich people, your mother, do it for nothing, use your telephone… however you need to tell your story, you have to put it together. So, it's been that way. The rules of the game are always changing, but the game itself stays the same.
You have to get the film done, and you have to understand that you need money to make a film and you're on a low budget, so you'd better make sure that your imagination and your desire of what you want to make, fits your capabilities of putting things together. Otherwise, you get frustrated, you imagine films you can't finance; that's really a frustrating and tough place to be.
Sputnik: Critics say you have a love for low-budget, usually shocking films, in which you explore the next very rotten piece of the "Big Apple". Do you recognise this view of yourself? What do you think about it? How would you like to be perceived?
Abel Ferrara: This is the perception of so many movies I made in a certain period of my life; but I've been making movies, the last 5 movies I made were documentaries basically, so I don't think [this pertains to all] the movies I'm making. That sounds like something from 25 years ago. At that moment, I was famous for that image, but we all change. Back to your first question, why did I make such a film as 'Tomasso', why not? It was last year, and 'Siberia' was the last film I made; 'Siberia' is different from 'Tomasso.'
I'd say it might have been true at a certain point. Again, the films that I grew up with, the films that made me want to make movies, were all shocking movies, I grew up with very radical hardcore movies; so, I'm used to very shocking movies, I'm expecting a movie to shock me. But other people are not. Like I'm saying, movies we're seeing now are very censored; [have you seen a movie that has actual real sexuality?] To me, I wouldn't imagine seeing a movie that [did] I wouldn't imagine seeing a movie filming people from the waist up.
I'm just used to it, it's my semantic language. It's the way it is. So, when I see this other stuff, I feel like I'm watching socially repressed censored images from censored people; and I don't want to be among people who are censored or repressed, who cannot express their real feelings and real emotions as human beings. So, for reasons that they're worried that the film won't be placed on TV, or they're worried about they're not going to get money for it; they're putting every single thing between them and their imagination. So, I don't see 'Tomasso' or any of my films as shocking; they're not as shocking as Siberia or Pasolini.
Sputnik: In 2007, you adopted Buddhism. Was this a turning point in your life and work? How did this affect your worldview and perception of how and what movies should show and reflect?
Abel Ferrara: I became Buddhist before 2007. I thought I was a great Buddhist, I thought I was a great meditator. But when you're doing cocaine and heroin, and alcohol and you think you're a great meditator, it doesn't work like that. So, you can't really meditate, you can't think about being a spiritual person until you stop drinking and drugging, especially if you're an addict.
What happened is that in 2012, when I did become sober and the idea; this delusional thinking I had, that alcohol and drugs were the sources of my being a human being, to make movies and everything, but I couldn't live a life once I was high and drinking. So, once you become [sober], you're not disillusioned any more, you understand where you are, and you're just you. For me, then, when I meditated that made sense; all the teaching I did, all the studying I did, finally made sense.
So, really, I wasn't a Buddhist until I was sober because you can't be a Buddhist if you're drinking and drugging, you just can't. For me, the Buddhist thing is practice, it's practical; it's seeing the world as it really is, without this overrated thing that someone in Heaven is sitting there, and the world was created, you're being judged. All of that is gone. The key was, for me, that you're not on Earth to suffer.
That's a really Buddhist thing; once you agree to that, you don't have to believe it, you just agree that none of us was put on Earth to suffer, which is the opposite of Christian beliefs, the whole idea of the cross … You're not here to suffer; so, if you are suffering, you are not seeing the world in a realistic way, I'm talking about self-suffering; most people torture themselves for no reason. So, once you get over that fact, then it makes sense, the meditation and the kind of daily spiritual things. There wasn't any separation between my movies and my life. The movies are just an expression of what we do.