By James Van Maanen
During this past summer's Open Roads festival of new Italian films, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, many of the moviemakers came over from Italy to meet with the press and their public. So many, in fact, that only a few hours were set aside for the press to talk to some dozen filmmakers. Ferzan Ozpetek, one of Italy's current top directors who is popular with both critics and public, was among these, and I was able to get a short interview with him (with the help of a terrific translator, Lilia Pino-Blouin, whom I've worked with now several times).
I think I've seen all your films. Are there seven?
Six. I have made a seventh film, but it is not out yet.
[We proceed to list them; I do this from memory, but Ferzan places each in its order of appearance.]
Hamam (Steam), Harem suaré, Fate Ignoranti (called His Secret Life here in the US), La Finestra di fronte (Facing Windows), Cuore sacro (Sacred Heart) and now Saturno contro (Saturn in Opposition). My new one, called Un Giorno perfetto (A Perfect Day), is scheduled to come out in October in Italy. And MOMA has scheduled in December a retrospective of my career, and on the first day, they are going to screen my new film.
Wow, at the Museum of Modern Art here in NYC: That's wonderful! Okay. Now I must ask you a question that may not please you. Several years ago, at one of the Q&A's that you did here at the FSLC's Walter Reade - I believe it was the Q&A for Facing Windows - I asked a question about homosexuality in your films. You were not happy about this question and simply ended any discussion.
[Ferzan laughs out loud, smiles and shakes his head.]
As a gay man, but one who was married for 20 years and has a child and grandchildren, I have always found your films wonderful because they are so inclusive. They are never simply all about gays or gay issues. Rather, they about so many other things - including how gays fit into the entire societal picture. Not all your films deal with gays: I liked Cuore sacro and Harem suaré for other reasons - their amazing, even troubling, beauty, for one thing - but your films that include gay characters speak to me in a special way. That's it. I have always wanted to explain this to you, and maybe make up for that question that so displeased you during the Q&A. You seemed angry that I was picking up on only the homosexual angle.
Do you remember the exact question you asked?
I believe I told you that I found it interesting how you treated homosexuality in the three of your films I had then seen: Steam (in which the character is discovering his homosexual leanings), Ignorant Fairies (which explores a whole gay segment of Italian society through the eyes of a wife who has discovered that her recently deceased husband was gay or maybe bisexual) and Facing Windows (which deals in part with the past and an old man's remembrance of his lover in Italy during WWII). And then I think I asked if you could talk about more about this.
Usually I am very straight in my answers, so it is strange that I didn't like that.
Maybe it was just a bad day...
Probably I was tired that night; that's the only thing I can imagine would be the reason for my attitude, and probably I did not understand the question correctly. But the issue is that, privately, I do have an issue with people in interviews who just focus on the homosexuality present in my films.
And that is pretty much how you answered my question that night.
Basically, a film is a work of art - there are authors, actors, technical issues - and all I am ever asked is about the gay issues. What drives me nuts, to just finish off with this theme: When I go to the Virgin store here in NYC and I want to see if they stock my films - because I know they do - and so I ask, "'Can I buy it?' And they tell me, "No, we don't have it." And then it turns out they do have it, but it is in the "gay section." And that just drives me nuts! My dream is one day not to have a "gay section."
That's my dream, too. Wouldn't that be something? I used to write plays, way back when, and one of these was a story about men, in which one of the four men was gay. Inevitably, I was always asked that question, but I didn't see the play as a gay play. It was about men. But I finally just gave up trying to convince people because that was always, always the question that I was asked.
One thing I would like to know is, What's the deal here in America right now? Yesterday in the New York Times I saw in a two-page spread paid for by some Family Protection Association and it was against gay marriage and for protecting family values. Buying two huge pages in the New York Times? What is going on here?
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