At last month’s Cannes film festival American Director Abel Ferrara presented his latest movie Tommaso which stars Oscar-nominated veteran actor Willem Dafoe, who plays an American-born artist living in Rome with his wife and daughter. Defoe’s character is a man who struggles with his own personal demons – a theme that Ferrara, himself, is deeply aware of as a recovering alcoholic. New Europe’s Federico Grandesso recently sat down with Ferrara while the latter was in Brussels for the International Film Festival.
New Europe (NE): How do you feel now?
Abel Ferrara (AF): I’m a recovering alcoholic, a disease I have you will never completely recover from. I have to approach it one day at the time. Today I’m not drinking and tomorrow we will see, but I have been sober for seven years now. According to Buddhist philosophy, you have to take one breath at a time. We are living this moment right now. I’m not going to worry about a new interview or the one that I just did. I’m practising what I preach. For someone like me, there isn’t some wonderful day that I will be able to drink like every else. The way I was drinking and using drugs was not a pleasure. It was an addiction. In the beginning, you like it, but then again I was not that kind of guy that could drink in moderation. If I was here, I would have been drinking out of the bottle and not only a glass of rosé wine.
NE: Has your new family and making movies helped you in the process?
AF: I have to stay sober whether I have a family or I don’t have a family. The movies depend on my mental and physical health because, otherwise, I can’t do anything the way I want to do, especially at this age.
NE: Do you need to suffer to be creative?
AF: You don’t have to suffer to be creative. In this, I resemble a Buddhist. If you suffer, you only see things in a delusional way. It’s a myth that I need drugs and alcohol to do what I do. Creativity is explainable, you don’t know where it comes from, but it comes from doing it.
NE: You now live in Rome. Were you influenced by any legendary Italian film directors?
AF: I was very much influenced by all of the Italian cinema masters. Remember, I did a film about Pasolini, someone who was important for the entire post-War group, and not just the directors. I remember fantastic cinematographers like Peppino Rotunno; writers and designers who were forming a solid cinema community. There was also Vittorio De Sica, who made “Bicycle Thieves” (1948) right in Piazza Vittorio.
NE: What do you think about the current migrant crisis?
AF: I did a documentary about immigration called Piazza Vittorio, which at the Venice Film Festival. I don’t see it as a problem. It’s mostly a refugee issue. Those people are not coming like the migrants came in the past to the US in search of new opportunities. These people are running for their lives, which were destroyed… in their countries – Syria, parts of Africa – there is a war.
NE: Can you tell me something about the film “Tommaso”?
AF: I was working on the script for about a year then financing was not a problem thanks to the Greek producer, Christos Konstantakopoulos. He loves movies and he developed a very good relationship with Willem Dafoe and the others. In this specific film, I wanted to be open that’s why my little baby, my wife, and my friends are there. You can’t make a film with any restrictions on yourself. You have to be open to going as far as the film is going to take you.
NE: What’s next?
AF: We already shot a film called Siberia. It’s a feature we shot in the Italian Alps and in a studio in Germany, then we went to Mexico and California. We recreated Siberia outside of Russia. The film is a metaphor for exile. There is a guy who is trying to rediscover himself through nature.
NE: At this point in your career, how and where do you find new ways to motivate yourself?
AF: Every situation – both films and ideas – are different for me, I’m enslaved to my imagination and the ideas I have become the films I’ve made. I would go wherever to make a movie if needed. We just shot in LA. Now my home is where the movie is and my neighbourhood in Rome is where I live with real people. What is important for me as a filmmaker is to be free, that’s why I’m in Europe at the moment.