Abel Ferrara: «We are one step away from the nuclear holocaust but nobody talks about peace»

On July 19, Abel Ferrara turned seventy, the most provocative, controversial and surprising director in Hollywood, openly allergic to the dynamics of the star system and commercial cinema, closer to the European artisan cinematographic art. The writer has had the opportunity to interview him several times, noticing his constant habit of expressing his opinion without filters, without paying attention to political correctness and without neglecting even a “fucking” as interlayer. In Syracuse, at the Ortigia Film Festival, in addition to presenting the documentary “Alive in France” on the French tour with his State rock band 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 he is still so topical?
“For his intelligence. For the way he was able to express himself, for the writings he left behind, from novels to poems, from articles to films. Intellectuals and artists like him live forever. Every time they ask me: «Why Pasolini exactly?», I answer: «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 the young people who start studying him and don’t 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 a nuclear holocaust and on the brink of a new world war. They are not years that are so different from those in which Pasolini wrote, even those times of the Holocaust and world war».

He also wrote that Italy was a “ridiculous” country. Do you agree?
«I don’t feel like giving political judgments on a country where I’m a guest, 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 guys of the Supreme Court have decided differently, in the name of their religion: without words».

A little while ago you were talking about the nuclear threat and the third world war…
«I was very struck by what happened in Ukraine. Everyone in America is convinced that war is the only possible option, no one is really talking about peace. Apart from Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. I am surprised that no government shows a concrete interest in peace, but only in taking sides with one or the other”.

And what does it come from?
«From the emptiness of compassion and spirituality. I can’t explain it well, just as I still don’t understand the Holocaust, how come the past has taught us nothing and we are very close to a nuclear threat».

Does it scare you?
“I certainly don’t find it ‘cool’. But I’m 70 now, I’ve 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 aren’t so warmongering».

An assessment of these 70 years?
«I am grateful to life and grateful to be alive, sober – I’m not joking – and to live 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 lived it during the lockdown, I shot “Zeros and Ones”. Fortunately I came out of the pandemic unscathed, 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 occur. The idea of ​​some criminals making a virus capable of annihilating the world sucks, but we have to live with it. I’m not just referring to China, where the virus started from, every country is developing biological and bacteriological weapons. The problem is that they make them: once made, every weapon is usable. Including nuclear power. The reality we live in is not beautiful, indeed it is very worrying, but we must look it straight in the eye, not look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist”.

What is his 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 true life. Today I dedicate my every breath to spirituality”.

By the way, what stage is your film on Padre Pio with Shia LaBeouf?
«It’s ready, the “chief” of the Capuchins in Italy said it’s a masterpiece. I’ll take it to the Giornate degli Autori in Venice, it will be previewed on September 2nd at 5 pm, write it down please, promise me. I want everyone to come see it. I will bring my band to Venice and we will play for free for everyone in what will be the party of the century».

Is directing LaBeouf as difficult as many say?
«Nope, he’s very good and woe to 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 am thinking of Willem Dafoe for “Pasolini”.
«The truth is that I don’t choose anyone, cinema is made as a team. With the production, the creative team, the crew… 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 filmmakers. In Italy they call me “maestro” for the films I’ve made, in the States only the money collected at the box office counts for a director.

What will you do after the film on 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 nobody talks about peace»