Sometimes controversial director Abel Ferrara addressed the idea of cancel culture in today’s world and whether it had become more difficult to make the kinds of films he once did. “It’s on the artist to uncancel himself, to come clean with himself,” he said. “If you’re paranoid about reactions, you shouldn’t be expressing yourself.”
Ferrara was speaking at the press conference for his out of competition documentary Sportin’ Life here at the Venice Film Festival, and also collected the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory to the Filmmaker Award.
Sportin’ Life is about the relationship Ferrara has to his work, to Willem Dafoe and to his music and art. These relationships were the starting point, and Ferrara has said, “I could not avoid facing what the world went through this year with the pandemic.”
The introspective, personal film was made during lockdown with a team in New York and Ferrara in Rome. In what was a “kind of illegal” move, he visited his editing room each day, “but it was only a couple of blocks and on the way to the grocery store,” he explained.
The crew had originally taken their cameras to the Berlin Film Festival and also traveled to Croatia, “Then we went from one situation that was kind of the last party in the world in Berlin and a week later we were in lockdown. The upside of this nightmare is that maybe it gives us a chance to sit back and take stock.”
The filmmaker said he leans towards documentaries as a “matter of being real, approaching the cinema from the idea of not make believe but your journey to the truth and using real people and real situations. It starts from our roots in Cassavetes, de Sica, early Passolini.”
Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent is a producer on the movie and basically gave Ferrara carte blanche. “The most beautiful words a filmmaker could hear are, ‘Hey, do what you want.’ A dream project of mine would be to work without a script and allow shooting to determine the flow of the movie.”
But such a move would be “concept specific. I want to have the option of approaching a movie with a screenplay in the position that the writer and myself are comfortable with. Other projects need very fine-tuned screenwriting.”
Asked about his “darkness,” Ferrara demurred to producer Diana Phillips. “Abel is on a journey,” she said. “He’s not looking at darkness, he’s looking at life. It’s been an arc since we did Bad Lieutenant and King Of New York. I think we’re heading to the light.”
Ferrara lives in Italy, but offered up his sentiments on the U.S., “To really understand the politics of a place you have to be from there. I don’t think anybody understands Trump the way I understand him. We grew up in the same period, he speaks the same as me. We have a cultural similarity… With him as Pressident, he gives this Falstaffian, Shakespearian character that we can gauge ourselves against.”