Exclusive Interview with Francis Ford Coppola, “Il Capo” of the Film Industry and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Lover

Exclusive Interview with Francis Ford Coppola, “Il Capo” of the Film Industry and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Lover

2019/05/04 - The Five-time Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola is a man of few words. He doesn’t need them. All of what he had to say is now a part of Hollywood’s most important film heritage. Now, from the serenity of his days away from the lights and cameras, he ponders about his Italian-American origins, about the influence the Mediterranean region had on his work and about the current state of the world. The bottom line? One needs to cherish the beautiful things in life: food, wine, the trees and children. In Coppola’s own words. Exclusively for Olivatessen.
At one point you said that film and magic are closely linked. This could be applied to gastronomy, where it all begins with a few isolated and empty ingredients, that when joined, can culminate in true works of art. What are your thoughts on this? What importance does gastronomy have in the life and works of Francis Ford Coppola?
British writer and scientist Arthur C. Clarke once stated, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” So I can only conclude that what I do is really part instinct and part magic.

You grew up in an Italian-American household and have always been proud of your origins, the music, the food… Moreover, you recently opened the Palazzo Margherita hotel, in the South of Italy, where you have rediscovered your roots. What influence have these had in your movies?
The influence of being an American citizen at the same time as I was an Italian descendant has marked both my life and my art tremendously. Absolutely everything I have created contains some reference to that mixture.

What place does olive oil occupy among the aromas and flavors of your childhood? Do you have any memories of how certain dishes were cooked in your home, or a favorite dish of yours, especially if olive oil was an ingredient?
While my origins are Italian, the truth is that I was raised in the Long Island (NY) suburbs and I didn’t get the chance to absorb that Mediterranean essence. I would have loved to have some sort of recollection of olive oil or olives, but the reality of it is that they didn’t bear a specific influence on me, due to these circumstances.

Vines and olive trees are a symbol of the Mediterranean landscape. Whether if they are planted in California, Uruguay or New Zealand, they emit aromas of the Spanish or Italian coasts. Do you feel your vineyards are a Mediterranean haven of sorts? Are they important symbols in your life?
Absolutely. For me, Napa Valley is a true Mediterranean sanctuary. My house is place of great beauty, abundance and quietude.

In fact, a few years ago you decided to take refuge from the movies in the wine world, claiming you had never seen a dinner table without a wine bottle being present. What pleasures has this life provided you compared to the life of the big screen?
Mmm… I feel I could answer each of your questions with small novels! The truth is I never took refuge from movies themselves, but from the corporate side of the movie industry. What’s more, movies, along with other life’s pleasures such as food, wine, the trees and children are all equally important to me.

In one of your classic movies, The Godfather II, a young Vito Corelone opens up an olive oil store in New York and tries to import his Genco Olive Oil brand to take control of the demand in the United States. It is an almost touching vision of how Europeans disembarked and put down roots in this country. Why do American audiences find the Mediterranean so appealing?
Evidently because the Mediterranean is a symbol of human race’s first cultures as it represents our collective memory, the origin of everything, the bond that unites humanity.

Eleanor, Sofia, Gia… All your wines bear the names of the women in your house. Just as it is portrayed in The Godfather, in the end all that truly matters is family. What legacy would you like to leave your grandchildren?
That’s simple, probably the attributes I value most in life: intelligence, creativity and friendliness.

It has always been polite to arrive with a bottle of wine when you are invited to someone’s house for dinner, however at least in Europe it is now trendy to bring a bottle of olive oil. What are your thoughts on this? Would you follow it?
Of course! In Napa Valley it is something completely normal, which is quite significant, given the wine-growing tradition of this region. Plus, Californian EVOO producers feel very proud of the legislation they’ve obtained which certifies the authenticity of their product.

If you had one minute, like in an ad, to sell a product as healthy, Mediterranean and authentic as olive oil, what slogan would you come up with?
“Wine and olive oil are ancient food and that is good!”

“I want you to believe… to believe in things you cannot,” are the words Count Dracula said to Mina. What does Coppola believe in? What does he fear?
My father taught me never to fear the dead, but the living…
I think that pretty much sums up my life’s philosophy.

If you could sum up your life in a dish, which would it be?
Pasta Fazool (paste e fagioli or pasta and beans in English). A traditional Italian dish that began as a peasant dish due to its inexpensive ingredients but today it can be widely found in Italy. It is made with beans, a small variety of pasta, olive oil, garlic, onion, spices and chopped tomato or the left overs of a weekend stew. It is interesting, but it’s a dish that appears in movies and songs like Dean Martin’s “That’s amore”: “When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool…”

These are weird times we are living, with a strange and fragile stability. What is your view about the world today? Do you smell Napalm in the mornings?
To be fair, I think we are probably living in the most benign period that human race has ever lived through yet we don’t have that feeling. I think it’s got more to do with the necessity of immediately reporting everything bad that happens in the world.
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