September 27th, 2010
A Letter to Elia
Film Synopsis

For Martin Scorsese, growing up in Little Italy, seeing On the Waterfront and East of Eden as a young man was a life-changing experience. Scorsese appears on and off camera throughout A Letter to Elia, taking us through Kazan’s life and through his own as well, and through his growing realization that there was an artist behind the camera, someone “who knew me, maybe better than I knew myself.” The film is about being exposed to the right movies at the right moment in your adolescent life, when you’re wide open and ready to connect, to be spurred on by the work up there on the screen, and then, maybe, to chart a course toward making your own movies.

Watch a preview:

Composed of clips, stills, readings from Kazan’s autobiography and his speech on directing (read by Elias Koteas), a videotaped interview done late in Kazan’s life, and Scorsese’s commentary on and offscreen, A Letter to Elia takes a close look at the life of art and its creation – the work, the distractions, the inspirations, the complications, the intersections between art and experience.

A Letter to Elia, written and directed by Scorsese and his longtime collaborator Kent Jones, is a deeply personal film, a frank portrait and self-portrait, and an equally frank acknowledgement of the closeness and the distance between artists and their art.

This American Masters full-length documentary on Kazan’s life is part of a collection of fifteen cinematic treasures by Kazan brought together by Martin Scorsese in The Elia Kazan Collection, available in the online Shop PBS.

  • O. Mortimer

    Hi, Is there a list of credited and featured actors who appeared in this special? Thank you.

  • Warren Irvine

    Is there a dvd available to purchase of this documentary ?? Is there a collection of Kazan’s film available as well ??? Donation to PBS to get this ??? Please advise, thank you. G W Irvine

  • Miguelito

    Letter to Martin:

    Thank you. I wept through most of this. As personal to me as what was on screen. Kazan was an East Coast guy…and when some refused to stand for his lifetime Academy Award, I laughed. MS understood his contribution transcends politics. He MOVED people. My old man was a Special Agent for the FBI in LA in the 50s . He told stories to me. Back then, it was like the difference between Paris Hilton and Bin Laden. Better or worse. Kazan revealed nothing anyone didn’t already know. Art & Subversion. [He'd have a fit nowadays with South Park blending both in deliciously funny ways]. A marine who killed hundreds in WWII, he spent most of his life defending the country from enemies foreign and domestic. Elia Kazan. A national treasure to be sure.

  • Barbara Bernheim

    I would like to purchase a copy of ” A LETTER TO ELIA”.

  • amintern

    You can purchase A Letter to Elia as a part of a boxset with other Elia Kazan movies through our 800# by calling 1-800-531-4727. Thank you for your interest. We hope you continue to visit the website for many more new exciting profiles and upcoming premiere information.

  • Richard Wilkie

    I finally had a chance to see the tribute to Elia Kazan on American Masters, and I found it quite moving, especially the points that Martin Scorsese made about how as a young man he was pulled into Kazan’s films through emotional connects to which he strongly related in his own life. That too was true for me with regard to seeing America, America (Kazan’s personal favorite film that he made, as it was as he once stated “the first film that was entirely mine.” )

    I vividly remember seeing America, America in 1964 in Seattle as a graduate student at the University of Washington. For years it was my favorite film, and even today it ranks in my top group of films. I strongly connected with it in several ways: The year before I had rambled the back roads of Greece and the Balkans on a four-month experiential journey of exploring places and cultures in that region. The feelings and depth that Kazan’s story of his uncle’s journey to America captured from that earlier time — along with the stunning visuals — left a strong mark on me. The story of people leaving for a new life in a distant land also resonated with me from family stories of my great grandparents traveling west in covered wagons to Idaho in the 1860s/1870s, and leaving home in the east for a new life. Along the lines of a powerful story of what America meant to so many immigrants and migrants, the story had great meaning and still does,

    And for anyone interested in learning how Elia Kazan films touch the soul, Martin Scorsese’s descriptions of his own reactions prove to be emotionally powerful.


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