Still, having received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Dubai International Film Festival this week, Apted appreciates the fact that the festival sees his career as something to celebrate.
“It’s very thrilling,” Apted, 71, says, relaxing on a couch on an oceanview veranda at the Al Qasr hotel at Madinat Jumeirah. “It’s nice to see people look at my films as a body of work, instead of having just gone from film to film. It’s an acknowledgement that I’ve been doing this for some time – and here they are.
“This business is so fast-moving that people forget what you did last year, let alone 40 years ago. But this means they’re looking at the whole picture, that what you did 10 or 20 years ago still has value. It’s a slightly bigger view of who I am.”
The British-born Apted, who lives in California, started his career in Britsh television in the 1960s, first as a researcher, then as a director of shows such as “Coronation Street,” before moving into films with “The Triple Echo” in 1972. He went on to direct “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Nell,” among others – all films whose female stars earned Oscar nominations (Sissy Spacek won her Oscar for “Coal Miner”).
“I’ve begun to see themes in the work more recently,” Apted says. “There’s a pattern – most obviously my interest in women’s issues. I don’t say, ‘I’m going to make a film about this subject.’ But I’m instinctively drawn to the subject without seeing the bigger picture. And, actually, the biggest change in my lifetime has been the changing role of women in society.
“When I started the ‘Up’ films, men ran society. And that’s changed, all over the world. As I worked, either I gravitated to that subject or I turned it into that, in the way I attacked the script. My interest has always been woman-oriented. But sometimes you don’t realize it until you’re done.”
The “Up” films began in 1964 with “Seven Up!,” a documentary in which Apted interviewed a group of British 7-year-olds about their lives. He’s been returning to the same group every seven years to produce a new film, making the films for Granada Television in Great Britain and then releasing them in American theaters. “56 Up!” will open in New York in January.
“Granada has always been there for this,” Apted says. “Every seven years, I go to them and say, ‘Time for the next one.’ The only question is when it will be broadcast. I don’t think anyone will ever do something like this again.”
Though he’s directed everything from thrillers (“Enigma,” “Extreme Measures”) to historical drama (“Amazing Grace”) to comedy (“Continental Divide”) to a James Bond film (1999’s “The World is Not Enough” with Pierce Brosnan), Apted finds it increasingly difficult to get his own films off the ground. The president of the Directors Guild of America, Apted keeps his hand in with television work (he was involved with the BBC-HBO series “Rome”). His most recent theatrical release was “Chasing Mavericks,” which he took over when director Curtis Hanson became ill three weeks into the production.
“My sweet spot, if you want to call it that, are films in the $8-20 million area – and those mid-range films get tougher and tougher to make,” he says. “The studios tend to prefer extremes, because those big films create a franchise. If a film costs $6 million or less, they feel they have a better chance to recoup. So the films I want to do I’ve got to do very cheaply.
“When I fell in love with movies in the 1970s, the kind of films I like to make were popular. I came at the end of a golden era and have watched the film industry change over the past 20 or 30 years.”
Still, Apted sees one change for the better: the way home video and Internet streaming have vastly extended the lifespan of a movie.
“That means the work stays longer,” he says. “When I started, you were lucky if your film got a bit of time in a cinema and one viewing on TV. Now – first with videocassettes, then DVD and now the Internet – the films stay around longer. So the studios may have a short memory – but the movies have a long tail.”
My day at the movies started well with Dong-hoon Choi’s “The Thieves,” a caper film that is the highest-grossing film in Korean history. But it went downhill from there, with “Tabu,” a dreary film of Portugal and Africa which I walked out of after an hour, and “Sadourni’s Butterflies,” a film from Argentina that had some visual panache but little else. The only thing about it that tickled me (and, apparently, me alone)? A character named Dr. Simonki – which was pronounced “sea-monkey.”
“The Thieves,” however, was a blast – a funny, action-packed tale of dishonor among thieves, as a mixed crew of Koreans and Japanese descend on Macao to steal a huge diamond. With a witty script, clever plotting and some eye-popping action, it was a great way to start the day, which went downhill from there, at least in terms of the movies I saw.
Today is my last day in Dubai. I’m moderating a panel this morning, “Do You Remember Your First Film,” in which actors and filmmakers will tell stories about the first film they made or worked on. Then I’m off to my final films of the festival. I’ll wrap things up tomorrow.Print This Post