Art & Culture
Francis Ford Coppola
A Legend in Film Making
November 03, 2009
Francis Ford Coppola, director, producer and screenwriter has enjoyed a turbulent career spanning decades. Perhaps most renowned for directing films such as The Godfather Trilogy, Conversations and Apocalypse Now, there is much more to the five-time Oscar winner than film making. In addition to making movies, Coppola also makes wine, gourmet condiments and pastas, owns mountain resorts and hotels. Today, at age 70, Coppola has finally had the strength to disregard the views of the critics and make the movie that he has always wanted to make, the entirely self-financed, Tetro.
Coppola began making movies at the mere age of ten using his father’s 8mm movie camera and tape recorder. Having been diagnosed with polio, he was bedridden for a year. Separated from his friends, he occupied himself with puppets and mechanical devices, which intensified an already developing fascination with film. Coppola went on to study film at UCLA during which time he made numerous short films. In the late 1960’s, he started his professional career making low-budget films and writing screenplays and by 1969 Coppola and George Lucas had established American Zoetrope, an independent film production company based in San Francisco. Shortly after, in 1971, Coppola got what he would later realize was his big break – the opportunity to co-write and direct none other than The Godfather, a job which was offered to numerous well-known directors. According to Coppola he was at the bottom of the barrel and only got the role because he was “young and cheap, and well-known as a writer”, and of course because he was Italian! Although Coppola had a number of box office hits he also produced a great many flops, some of which almost bankrupted him and American Zoetrope, which he was later forced to sell. While some in the film industry predicted the end of Coppola's career, he began his comeback immediately with a variety of films, many highly-commercial, including Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Peggy Sue Got Married, Gardens of Stone, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack. With the release of The Godfather III in 1990, his professional vindication was complete.
Today, the 70-year-old film making legend is no longer concerned with what the critics have to say and has finally created the movie he always wanted to make, Tetro, the low-budget, black-and-white, entirely self-financed film. Coppola describes Tetro as his most explicitly autobiographical film. The film explores his relationship with his older brother, August, who is coincidentally Nicolas Cage’s father. The film is a family drama that follows the lives of an artistic family of immigrants whose fierce rivalries span several generations.
Having recently attended the Beirut International Film Festival where Tetro fascinated the crowd, Coppola expressed his delight at having the opportunity to visit Lebanon for the first time. “I am thrilled to be here with you and I give you my congratulations because the city that I have seen is full of life and full of beauty and so I am very pleased to be here.” Coppola went on to boast about the successful Lebanese both within Lebanon and abroad and the strength of the character of a nation which has endured so much.
Away from show business, Coppola entered into various diversified ventures and is thus not only renowned as a film director, producer and screenwriter but also a vintner, magazine publisher and hotelier. He is the owner of resorts in Guatemala and Belize and a hotel in the south of Italy. He has served on the board of directors at Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer and has published City Magazine and the literary magazine Zoetrope. Since cooking, eating, and sharing meals with family and friends have always played a central role in Coppola’s life, it is no surprise that he released his own food lines such as Francis Coppola Selects, that feature olive oils, vinegars and sun-dried tomatoes. Mammarella pasta and sauces are perhaps the most well-known, having been named in homage to his mother Italia Coppola, who was referred to as Mammarella (dear little mama) by her grandchildren and is featured at age 17 on the label. Coppola and his wife Eleanor also purchased a historic Napa Valley estate founded more than a century before by Gustave Niebaum, noted for its legendary Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. Niebaum-Coppola was later renamed the Rubicon Estate Winery – after Coppola’s flagship wine – focusing its energies solely on its estate wines, which total about 15,000 cases a year. They later bought the Chateau Souverain facility in Sonoma County. Re-named the Francis Coppola Winery, it’s now home to the Francis Coppola Diamond Series wines and the Coppola Presents entry-level blends Rosso and Bianco, producing over a million cases a year.
Coppola has often included family members on the cast of his films. His two sons were cast as extras in The Godfather. The eldest of the two was in the early stages of a film production career before his death in 1986 and his surviving son is a film-maker and music video director. Coppola’s daughter Sofia, appeared in all installments of The Godfather and is now an Academy Award-winning writer and nominated director. Her films include the critically acclaimed The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation. In 2004, she became the first American woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. His sister, Talia Shire, played Connie Corleone in all three Godfather films. His father Carmine, a composer and professional musician, co-wrote much of the music in The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now. His nephew Nicholas Cage has also starred in numerous films.