|q: Your film has engendered controversy.... China not liking it. It's a
new territory, this idea of suddenly a filmmaker in .....foreign policy ...
a: This is a new territory.
q: Disney calling in Henry Kissinger to advise it about how to -- handle a
film -- What is going on?
a: Money. This is free enterprise. It's what America is based on.
They have every right to protect that money-making issue. They have every right
to do it. I don't say ethically it's right. I think in terms of freedom of
expression it may not be but you know Disney made -- Disney-- I don't know how
much money Disney put in, how much UGC in France put in, but you know the
picture is made and they're releasing the film. That's one thing everybody
has to understand.
And I think also, it is not the first time. I believe there was a film that
was going to be made about Japanese baseball at Columbia a couple -- a few
years ago when Sony bought Columbia and because it was at Universal, maybe
Matsushita had Universal. I may be wrong but I know that there was a picture
which was going to be a satiric look at it or something and they felt... it was
gonna insult the Japanese and they couldn't make the film. And this was part
of the problem of --the studios being bought....
The big danger I think in this country right now is that the corporations are
so big and controlled so much and there's so much money to be made that it will
infringe on freedom of expression -- and when we're talking about a situation,
we're not talking about here-- oh Disney is not releasing the movie and they're
causing.... -- they're not doing that. You know, they're not doing that . I
think I understand their concern. I totally understand their concern. They're
in a corporation you make money and you don't want to jeopardize the six
billion dollar potential.
q: Michael Eisner had said the Chinese are doing very intelligently with
this, and films have a way of going out, and if you don't say anything, they go
a: I know. We'll have to see. But there's no doubt that every day
it's a struggle for any movie and particularly now after all this has
happened. A picture like this every day will be a struggle. We all didn't sit
down and say -- let's get into some difficulty here but we're in this situation
together. I understand their concerns, I understand their position, but they
also understand mine and I have to make people know the picture's out there and
we'll try our best to get it nicely distributed. It's not a movie with big
stars, you know it's a very special picture and it deserves a shot, that's all
I'm saying it deserves a shot, I'm going to try to see if I can do that .
q: Did the Chinese reaction surprise you? Did this all take you by
surprise? Tell me about your reaction?
a: I was shooting about two and a half months in Morocco and one
morning I got up, had breakfast, and it was the international news on and
financial news and there we were, they were talking about our picture. So I
was surprised. I was very surprised and I understand that there could be a
great deal of discomfort behind the scenes. Negotiations -- people could stop
talking the meetings are canceled, things like that but to go public with that,
I was very surprised, very surprised and within a day or so Disney backed the
picture and moved on down the line.
q: What about this idea of Disney hiring Henry Kissinger, what do you make
a: Well Disney's become a very big corporation. A lot of shareholders,
stockholders, and a lot of responsibilities and they have a certain image
that's been resuscitated.....And from a movie studio it's gotten into
something else. Cruises and something I don't understand, it's something else
entirely. That's like theme parks. The first theme park in a way Walt Disney
did that -- but it's opened all around the world.. so I think it's a potential
for unlimited enterprise, making money.
q: But it comes back to the studio--this question of a studio finding
itself in a position of needing a foreign policy, of needing to hire somebody
like Henry Kissinger.
a: The reason I think is because it's like a new era -- it's not a
studio. It's a corporation. It's an idea. It's a presence --Disney. Whether
you agree with that or not that's what it is and that's what it's becoming. It
has to be sustained that way and therefore it's become a situation where you
take people on the level of a Kissinger to advise , consult with.
q: You talked about it being a struggle, of ongoing day-by-day basis.
What is the struggle?
a: Well it's a special picture -- and that's why it's a struggle.
It's not a film with movie stars, it's a film that has a slower pace to it so
you have to immerse yourself in that, you got to know what kind of movie you're
going to go and see and give yourself to it if you can .
And I think one has to be vigilant to make sure that the picture gets a proper
releases. I'm not saying that we're getting phone calls and not releasing the
film, things like that -- they're standing by the picture but one has to be
very careful. I don't expect a corporation or the heads of corporations to
totally underwrite a political cause that I may believe in you know. And so
that may affect how the picture opens and what kind of presentation it has and
that sort of thing. It's a delicate issue. You have to be a little more
vigilant than normal.
q: But filmmakers like you have always prized this ability to address in
whatever way, issues that you care about.
a: The world has changed, obviously--one has to be very careful. I mean
this picture has slipped through in a way -- again not -- I must tell you -- I
didn't say, 'oh we're going to put one over on Disney, we're going to make this
picture,' --no, we all thought we were going to make a movie, you see, and
somehow all this erupted. All right.
So this slipped through. What could happen next? It's very dangerous
situation. How much money does a corporation really need ultimately? You know
what I'm saying and who's a corporation? What is a corporation? Who are the
people you know -- this is a very danger -- and this is a filmmaker like on my
level now -- it's probably easier to make these pictures for younger people,
independent films and that sort of thing -- it's much easier to say exactly as
But the old traditional Hollywood studios--we're entering another phase here,
another whole thing. Paramount is owned by Viacom I believe. Fox is owned by
Murdoch, it's a whole other issue. Each studio is , I may be wrong but I
think has become part of-- and this has happened the past 25 years -- part of
a conglomerate or now a major corporation and there's no doubt that filmmakers
are going to have to fight a little harder.
q: The reality of Tibet.....it's getting very hard. We have somebody in
Tibet now trying to get pictures and basically they're telling us they can't.
And I'm wondering do you think that there is kind of ironic-- where a picture
like yours will ultimately end up being the record of the culture that first of
all we had movie images of? That what we're left with in the end is...
a: Is the movie. ...I think we're in the process of making the
picture, Dante Ferretti who did the production design and the costumes, we were
conscious, and not to be presumptions because if we had more money we could
have built a potala, the palace, we didn't have the money OK, so we made a map
painting, computerized certain things, all right fine. We would have gone
further with certain look but the picture has to be an intimate film, I wanted
it to be intimate and at the same time on a personal epic scale, that's what I
wanted to get at .
But while we were doing that, we had a sense that maybe and not to be
presumptions and it's a sad thing, I'm going to say but that this may be --
and aspects of "Seven Years in Tibet"--may be the only records left of aspects
of this culture.....
We hope not, we hope not, and as I say it's not to be presumptions because one
has to take certain liberties when you're making a film and we did the best we
could within our budget, budgetary situation. But there was an aspect that
maybe a picture like this who knows might become -- I mean an impression of the
culture. It's not the culture because it's a movie but it's an impression, a
dream-like image, I hope is what I try to create in this picture, a dreamlike
spiritual subconscious, subconscious image, impression of Tibet.
q: Do you think seeing "Kundun" and some other films about Tibet and popular
culture--Free Tibet Concerts and CDs-- can have an impact on how people
a: It may be. I hope it would. But again I can't be as presumptions to
say that. That our pictures will change the world. I can't do that. Even as
much as I'd like to at times-- can't take yourself that seriously, you always
have to keep your sense of humor.
But I am concerned about Tibet and I do get mad sometimes when I think about
it. I'm not a Buddhist so I get very very angry at times but as Sam Fuller
said, you make a movie when you're angry. That's the way to make a picture.
But Free Concerts, Free Tibet concerts they'll make people aware, understand
what it is. It helped somewhat with South Africa. I don't know if any movie
really helped with South Africa but there was a lot of pressure put on but
there was a great deal of violence there and that sort of thing. It's a great
deal of violence in Tibet now but the -- it's not the same kind. It's being
acted - as I say as I say it's a people --it's an oppression.
q: And in that sense does this experience with Tibet tell us something
about us as Americans?
a: Yes, I think this whole experience to be able to make pictures about
what you want to make them about -- it tests our values as a culture. It
really does. As I say I understand the corporate position too. I understand.
But think of the values. Think of American values. Think of values of freedom
and think of human rights.