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Ferzan Ozpetek, writer/director of Magnificent Presence

Magnificent Presence debuts as the opening night film of The Film Society of Lincoln Center's Open Roads: New Italian Cinema on June 8th, 2012 at the Walter Reade Theater. It doesn't have a U.S. distributor, yet.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you find the right balance between balancing all of the genre elements?

Ferzan Ozpetek: There are lots of different things here that you come across in this film. I sometimes even thought to simplify all of that because it seemed a little much, but then I realized how much fun I had with precisely this mix. I cook a lot and it’s a little like when I cook for my friends---you add some things, you leave out something you had planned to put in, and something happens along the way.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How challenging is it to take risks as a filmmaker?

FO: I’m in a relatively privileged position here because I’ve done 9 films and of the 9 films, 5 of them were successful box-office and critically-wise, and hence I have more leeway to do things differently than most people have. I’m grateful for that. The difficulty with that is that people start expecting the same thing. Lots of people asked me, “Why isn’t this more like Loose Cannons?” because people thought that after that success, the following film would be similar. I didn’t really want to do that.

NYC MOVIE GURU: How important and challenging is it to trust the audiences’ intelligence?

FO: My distributors generally say, “Well, it will bring at least X amount of box office because whoever went to see the last film of mine will go to see this one.” They’re almost like fan groups. When I took a train to Milan to do some publicity work for the film, people at the train station as well as the conductor asked for an autograph and commented on the film which is really more important. I really like this feeling of having a direct exchange with my audience.

NYC MOVIE GURU: What led you to the decision to open the film with the close-up shot of an eye?

FO: When I was writing the script, there was something that a friend of mine told me about this old actor who’s over 80, but grew up in the specific theater tradition, always said that what counts in theater really is the makeup, the mask that you put on. So, we started experimenting with [actor] Beppe Fiorello and the other actors in the film, and put them in this theater makeup. When I saw that, I couldn’t get my eyes off of them, so I really wanted to start the film with the strange scene of makeup.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be safe to say that the protagonist, Pietro, is also a magnificent presence?

FO: That’s absolutely correct. In one of the earlier versions of the script, the ghost calls out to Pietro, “Well, you’ve been a very important presence.” That was explicit, maybe even a little too explicit which is why I cut it because it was making it a too obvious. To the ghosts, he’s the most important presence in their lives because, without him, they wouldn’t be visible. Nobody could see them except for him. Their play, their theater would not be seen by anybody.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you include the political joke about the lack of freedom in Italy?

FO: Originally, there were many more political jokes in this vein where the ghosts misunderstand part of the modern Italian political reality. I took a lot of those illusions out because it seemed to me that the film was becoming too political, and that was not what I was trying to say in this film. Although, obviously, I’m really interested in it. So, a lot of that was cut, but I do feel that today there’s a lot more coercion, less freedom for people to decide what they want to do, so I left that in because it seemed to me a very important topic.

NYC MOVIE GURU: Would it be correct to say that a common thread in all of your films are the elements of surprise and humanism?

FO: Yes, humanism and a sense of surprise are elements that I’m interested in. The two of them are, in many ways, related. I always start with human feelings, something sentimental. Something that always continues to surprise me is that, through that, a lot of the time, very different people---from academics, to manual laborers---sometimes react in the same way. I think that happens because the underlying foundation of human sentiments is shared.

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