The 36th annual Mill Valley Film Festival paid tribute to Costa-Gavras Friday night at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, where a sold-out crowd warmly received the famed political filmmaker.
Costa-Gavras was in town to present his latest film, “Capital” – as in money, not a municipal seat of government – and to receive the Mill Valley Film Festival Award, which the MVFF presents to recipients of Tributes and Spotlights "honoring and celebrating the work of distinguished artists and innovators in the filmmaking community.”
Actor, arts activist and sublime voice-over talent Peter Coyote moderated the event. Audience Q&A followed a screening of the film.
Introducing “Capital,” Coyote said, “It is just part of the continuum of great films. I don’t know another director that has mixed the craft of cinema with rigorous political analysis with unbending belief in the democratic process and civil liberties and rights.”
After Costa-Garvas walked out to a rousing ovation, conversation turned to his film career, and not surprisingly, politics.
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On “Z” (1969) and the Golden Dawn Party, which had been making a comeback until the Greek Supreme Court decreed them to be a criminal organization two weeks ago: “Every country has its barbarians. They are not so many, generally, a few small groups, pro-Nazi and with completely insane ideas.
“I believe there are good people everywhere; there are bad people on the left as there are on the right. I think it’s important to judge people; see what they do, see how they live their lives.”
On Palme d’Or winner “Missing” (1972) starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek, which was pulled from distribution following a $60 million defamation lawsuit filed by former Ambassador Nathaniel Davis: “We (Lew Wasserman and I) decided to go to trial. We won, because it was $30 million for Universal and $30 million for me.” (Universal re-released the film in 2006.)
On “Amen” (2003), his film about Pope Pius XII, the Catholic Church, and their silence during the Holocaust: “The idea was not to do something against the Catholic Church; the idea was to do something – a movie, a story – about the Pope, who knew everything during the general occupation and what they used to do in the camps. And he didn’t say a word. Nothing.”
On how he cast French comedian Gad Elmaleh for the lead in “Capital”: “I wanted to find someone who never did something like this, and this actor we saw there, Gad Elmaleh, is a comedian. He’s the most comic actor in France. When he walks down the street, everybody knows him. I had already made a similar choice casting Jack Lemmon in ‘Missing.’”
On his research into greed: “People who are very rich, when they asked them how much money would be for you satisfactory, all of them said one-third more than what they had. Sometimes double. Why do you need to have several cars, several houses?”
On untaxed money in Cayman Islands accounts: “There exists something like 21 million-billion dollars ($21,000,000,000,000). You see how many zeroes you have? That money could solve all of the problems in the world!”
On double checking his sources for “Capital”: “When I finished the script, I gave it to a banker to read it and he told me, ‘The numbers were too low.’”
On regulating banks: “There has to be global regulation. If it’s not global, then it’s a mess. It’s a jungle.”
Why the system is so hard to fix: “The power doesn’t belong anymore to the people who are elected. The power belongs to the people who have the money…You see what happened (with) the banks, they didn’t have money, who gave them money? The state.”
Peter Coyote on Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s examination of the economic differential between the very, very rich and everyone else: “The politicians learned that if they cater to the one-tenth of one percent, they could ensure their re-election. They could say whatever they had to say to get re-elected, but all of the money came from the one-tenth of one percent. And from that point on, all the laws, all the loopholes, all the lack of policing was designed in acts of commission, or non-commission, to serve that one-tenth of one percent. That’s how we arrived here.”
A final word from Peter Coyote: I’m a Zen Buddhist priest, and from my perspective, the problem in all the systems is human beings – and fascism, communism, socialism, capitalism – anything could work if it was practiced with generosity and compassion and restraint, and absent those things, no system will work.”
“Capital" will be released in the U.S. this November.
The 36th Mill Valley Film Festival continues through Oct. 13, 2013. See program and ticket info at www.mvff.com.
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