Abel Ferrara: “We are one step away from the nuclear Holocaust but no one is talking about peace”

On 19 July, Abel Ferrara, the most provocative, controversial and surprising director in Hollywood, was declared seventy, admittedly allergic to the dynamics of the star system and commercial cinema, closer to European artisan cinematographic art. The writer has had the opportunity to interview him several times, finding the constant habit of saying about him without filters, without paying attention to the politically correct and without neglecting even a “fucking” as an interlayer. In Syracuse, at the Ortigia Film Festival, in addition to presenting the documentary “Alive in France” on the French tour with his rock band Statale 66, he re-projected his film “Pasolini”, as a tribute to the centenary of the great intellectual.

Let’s start with Pasolini: why do you think it is still so relevant?
“For his intelligence. For the way he was able to express himself, for the writings he left, from novels to poems, from articles to films. Intellectuals and artists like him live forever. Every time they ask me: “Why Pasolini?”, I reply: “Why not?”. As a director there is nothing more interesting than a man and a writer like him ».

He has said several times that his film is above all an act of love.
“I have always been a great admirer of Pasolini since I was a boy: I have been reading and studying him for 50 years, I consider him my teacher and I envy young people who are starting to study him and do not know that they are about to discover gold and diamonds”.

Pasolini wrote “I hate power” and spoke of politicians as “comic masks”.
“He especially hated the oppression resulting from power. The division between masters and slaves that power determines. And he was right, this is how the world is configured, just look at what is happening today: we are one step away from the nuclear holocaust and on the brink of a new world war. These are not so different years from those in which Pasolini wrote, even those times of the Holocaust and of the world war ».

He also wrote that Italy was a “ridiculous” country. Do you agree?
“I don’t feel like making political judgments about a country I’m a guest of, I don’t even speak your language, but I can tell you what I think about the country where I was born and raised, the fucking States.”

Do you want to start with the overturning of the sentence that guaranteed abortion at the federal level?
“Personally I am not in favor of abortion, but I am convinced that every woman should have the freedom to decide freely about her own body. Instead, these six Supreme Court guys decided differently, in the name of their religion: speechless. “

A little while ago he spoke of a nuclear threat and a third world war …
«I was very impressed by what happened in Ukraine. Everyone in America is convinced that war is the only option, nobody is really talking about peace. Apart from Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. I am surprised that no government shows itself to be concretely interested in peace, but only in taking the side of one or the other ».

And where does it come from?
«From the void of compassion and spirituality. I don’t know how to explain it to myself, just as I still can’t explain the Holocaust, why the past has never taught us anything and we are very close to a nuclear threat ».

Does it scare you?
«I certainly don’t find it ‘cool’. But I am 70 years old now, I have traveled all over the world and talked to a lot of people, there are very few people who really think about killing each other, most people are not so warmongers ».

A balance of these 70 years?
“I’m grateful for life and grateful for being alive, sober – I’m not kidding – and for living in Rome, which inspires me every day.”

Don’t you miss New York?
«As soon as I miss it, I go back, but I prefer Rome. I also experienced it in the lockdown, I shot “Zeros and Ones”. Fortunately, I came out unscathed from the pandemic, thanks to the three vaccines made ».

How has the pandemic impacted your life?
“Nobody expected it, nobody knew what to do, it was a nightmare. And it has become a reality that can always happen. The idea that some criminal starts to manufacture a virus capable of annihilating the world sucks, but we have to live with it. I am not referring only to China, from which the virus originated, every country is developing biological and bacteriological weapons. The problem is that they make them: once made, every weapon is usable. Including the nuclear one. The reality we live in is not beautiful, indeed it is very worrying, but we must look it straight in the eye, not turn the other way and pretend that it does not exist ».

What is your remedy for worries?
«Every now and then I think back to what John Kennedy said: don’t ask yourself what your country can do for you, ask yourself what you can do for your country. Apart from the nationalistic side of the message, it is something we have also learned from religions, from Christ, from Buddha. Our responsibility is to have compassion for the other: care and love are the only things that matter, the only things that lead to a real life. Today I dedicate my every breath to spirituality ».

By the way, where is your film on Padre Pio with Shia LaBeouf at?
«It is ready, the“ leader ”of the Capuchins in Italy has said that it is a masterpiece. I will take it to the Venice Days, it will be screened on 2 September at 5 pm, please write it down, promise me. I want everyone to come and see it. I will bring my band to Venice and we will play free for everyone in what will be the party of the century ».

Is directing LaBeouf as difficult as many say?
«Not at all, he’s very good and woe betide anyone who touches him, he’s my boyfriend. In the film he gives a great performance as an actor ».

He has a rare ability to choose the right actors for his films, I think of Willem Dafoe for “Pasolini”.
«The truth is that I don’t choose anyone, cinema is done as a team. With the production, the creative team, the troupe … This is why I have always liked this job, and it still makes me happy today ».

Especially in Italy.
“It’s home. Living in Rome is a miracle for the eyes. I grew up in the Bronx, where in the 1950s the language was Neapolitan, today I’m used to understanding Roman, but I still don’t speak it. I love the attention you give to art, to cinema. In America I had to fight to make people understand what it means to be an artist, in Europe you have a solid tradition of filmmaking. In Italy they call me “maestro” for the films I made, in the States of a director only the money collected at the box office counts.

What will you do after the film about Padre Pio?
“I will go to Ukraine to see what is happening and I will tell about it.”

Abel Ferrara: “We are one step away from the nuclear Holocaust but no one is talking about peace”