Sofia Coppola on the future of film

Sofia Coppola made an immediate impact with her 1999 debut The Virgin Suicides, and confirmed her cult status with Lost in Translation in 2003. But with an Edith Wharton adaptation for Apple TV+ in the works, does she see the future on the big screen, or the small?

Sofia CoppolaPhotography by Robin Galiegue

Pamela Hutchinson: Does cinema need saving? If so, what is the one most important thing that should be done?

Sofia Coppola: Watching a film in a theatre is such a different experience than at home – you have the patience and focus to be immersed in someone else’s world. So I hope that isn’t lost. A lot of kids are used to seeing things on their laptops, and I’m sure that will have an interesting effect on filmmaking, but I hope they find their way to the theatres.

I will never forget seeing In the Mood for Love [2000] on a screen in a dark theatre and the way it impacted me. And Pather Panchali [1955] – I watched it with my family, with my kids, and it was just so rewarding. When I make films I think about them on a big screen in a theatre. It probably will be seen on a phone, but I hope not. I know kids are shooting on their phones, vertically, but I don’t think of the frame being vertical. That will be evolving, but the theatre is what I grew up with, so when I’m planning a shot, that’s what I’m thinking about.

In the Mood for Love (2000)Courtesy of Janus Films

What or who gives you hope for the future?

Young people who are enthusiastic about filmmaking and art, and experimenting – not just the idea of themselves as directors. I’m always more interested in someone that sincerely wants to express something and find a new way to do it.

Also that there are so many more women filmmakers working today than when I was starting out. That’s not so out of the ordinary as it was then. It was such a closed world then, so it’s good to see it opening up. In general, there’s just a nice atmosphere of other women making films.

If you could bring back one thing about the film culture of your youth, what would it be?

I love revival houses. They connect us to cinema. There are still a few in the States: we go to Film Forum at the Quad, and in LA, Quentin Tarantino has the New Beverly. It was a tradition for us, but I feel like kids see everything online now.

There’s this random movie Year of the Jellyfish [Christopher Frank, 1984], which my husband [Thomas Mars] and his friends love. They showed it at the Quad and it was really fun to see it in the theatre. It has a Nina Hagen soundtrack and it’s set in Saint-Tropez in the 80s. It’s weird and I love it. Those are the kind of films you could stumble across.

Quentin does great double features at the New Beverly – he picks cool things. I know the New Beverly projects on film and I love that, but probably a lot of them are digitally projected, which I think they can do in good quality. I love seeing a film print, but it is pretty rare.

Then there are the restorations. I saw The Leopard [Luchino Visconti, 1963] a couple of years ago at Lincoln Center on a huge screen. When I saw the ball scene, in this beautiful restored print, it really inspired me to do the project I’m working on now [an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country for Apple TV+]. I love the beauty and the grandeur of Visconti, so I’m in the mood to try to do something lavish.

The Leopard (1963)

How do you see the relationship between cinema and the small screen developing?

I think independent film is influencing the look of TV, but it still seems like TV to me. I don’t want to put down television – I’m not as excited as everyone, but I don’t want to be unsupportive.

I still think cinema is different to television. There’s a different approach, I think. My new project is in five parts, but I’m approaching it as a long film. I love the book, and it would be too hard to condense it down to two hours. I’d love to do something that had beauty and lavishness for TV, because that’s what I would like to watch.

What should be done to raise awareness of the riches of film history?

Support the Film Foundation that Martin Scorsese started for film preservation. I just recently joined the board and I think it’s so important, this work to restore lost treasures.

We should also make the Criterion Channel available to students. Not just film students, anyone who is interested. To me, the Criterion Channel is a great way for someone to be able to see great films and have that curated for you, if you don’t know where to look. I feel lucky that I grew up with my dad who was watching old, great movies and I got to see them. More young people should have access to that.

I love film and shooting on film, but I also think that technology has advanced so much that it brings new advantages, and hopefully we can have the best of both.

What does the film canon represent to you?

It’s our history, an exciting artform, and how we connect to different cultures. There are all these great lists. Scorsese did the history of Italian cinema, there’s Criterion, the Film Foundation, the AFI

If there’s a filmmaker that you admire, it’s good to know what their list is. To see films from all over the world is so enriching, then you feel like you’re a part of it. You want to add to this body of work, with people expressing themselves and sharing different cultures.

What will cinema look like in 2031?

TikTok? I just know that’s what my kids see everything on. I’m half joking, but I’m sure that’s really going to influence how people express themselves. Maybe because we’re so used to everybody sharing the reality of their lives. I wonder if there might be an appeal in something that’s manufactured and not a part of our reality? Something that’s another world, constructed from someone’s imagination.

The main difference I hope will be that you’re going to see more and more different kinds of voices represented. If you look back, obviously, it was one group of mostly men. I’m always happy to see something I haven’t seen before and be surprised, so we’ll see.

The future of film