Octogenarian Costa-Gavras, arguably the world's greatest living political film-maker, is at the Mumbai Film Festival where he was conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award. DNA's Yogesh Pawar caught up with the filmmaker, five of whose films are also being screened for an interview.
Do you sense a change in Indian cinema from your earlier visits?
Oh yes, yes. From the time I came in 1984 for a film festival in Mumbai with Hanna K, things have changed very very rapidly. Along with what is traditionally been mainstream cinema, there seem to be many new ideas coming forward from new and young film makers and this is very good. The viewers are also changing and access is improving. People don't need to be in cinema hall to watch films. They are even watching it on the phone, though that's not an idea that I'm too comfortable with.
Does it surprise you that Z has such a huge following more than two decades after it was made?
I want to make good cinema which has something to say about society. I wanted to make a film about the dictatorship in Greece. Everyone I met discouraged me from making it saying it would be too heavy. I was told there is no lead character, love story or action. But I had set out to tell a human story — of people and their power over each other. You don't pick up a political issue and call it a political film. It is ultimately all about the resistance.
Have you watched the Hindi film by Dibakar Banerjee, Shanghai, inspired by Z?
The film maker had approached me. I said I want no money. I was okay with the film being made. I only asked him to get in touch with the author of the book Vassilis Vassilikos (on which the film was made) or his publishers to see if they had problems. I have been given a DVD this time and will definitely watch it soon.
Will you ever make a non-political mass entertainer?
The idea of politics... of making political movies... I don't know exactly what that means As far as I am concerned, all movies are political in their own way. Ultimately politics is all about the choices you make in every little thing in life.
Many were calling you a communist film-maker till you shocked the leftists with Confession
Its true. Some of my friends called me a traitor and stopped talking. I had actors turn me down saying I had betrayed the movement. But I never want to stop questioning. Replacing a religion with a political party or movement cannot make it right. In fact the dangers can often be more potent. The film was against totalitarianism in general and Stalinism in particular. Have you watched it?
No, I haven't. Sorry. It wasn't released here...
Ah yes! In those days India was very close to the Soviet Union. (Laughs) How could this film release here?
Who are some of the film-makers who influenced you?
I've worked with Nouvelle Vague French directors Rene Clair and Jacques Demy. Clair was a brilliant technician though I couldn't adapt much of it as the way we shot and cameras changed, I remember imbibing that sense of being-in-the-know. Demy gave me sense of how to make even the routine look great without resorting to cinematic gimmicks. I think even Charlie Chaplin's style of silent cinema lets us learn so much about keeping it all visual. Look at Modern Times. I've seen it so often I remember every frame and shot and yet it so enjoyable. This may also have to do a lot with the fact that the horror the film foretold, is our reality today.
Had you already seen a trend in corporatisation of the media and aggressive exploitative journalism in 1997 when you made the Dustin Hoffman-starrer Mad City?
Things were beginning to look bad even then but we keep hitting so many new lows daily that its difficult to fathom where we are. The character of Hoffman, a television reporter who manipulates a hostage situation for a big story to advance his career had seen many in the media baulk then. They found it difficult to accept that a reporter befriends the gunman and manipulates the situation, passing up several chances to end it swiftly in favour of creating a national media event. But look at what is happening with the media today.
Five years later you were to take on the Roman Catholic church with Amen.
Yes, Amen highlighted the understanding between the Nazis and the Vatican on the killing of Jews. It still baffles me to think that Pope Pius XII with all his power chose to stay silent even when Jews from Rome were being picked up. Arguably, his speaking out may not have led to a change of heart in Hitler but it could have saved lives.
Your latest, Capital talks about the on-going economic crisis.
Today its not the elected leaders, monarchs or dictators who are powerful but the financial institutions like banks. They are the real villains with the power of big money to overthrow governments, engineer coups and start off clashes. Look at the sheer number of working class people who are losing everything to mortgage. This concerns me and the only way I know how to resist is to make a film. That is what I have done.
I am planning a movie on the political situation in Greece and rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.