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Abel Ferrara Isn't Scared of You: His Takes on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Gerard Depardieu, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Willem Dafoe

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 14, 2013 at 11:28AM

The last time Abel Ferrara came to the Locarno Film Festival, he was honored onstage in front of a thousand people. But when the seminal underground New York filmmaker arrived in town this week, he decided to remain under the radar. While putting the finishing touches on "Welcome to New York," a drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal, Ferrara is finalizing plans for a biopic about Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, a project he has been hoping to get off the ground for years. While en route to Italy in the throes of pre-production, Ferrara quietly showed up in Locarno for the final days of the festival and sat down with Indiewire at his hotel to discuss his upcoming projects.
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Abel Ferrara in Locano this week.
Eric Kohn Abel Ferrara in Locano this week.

The last time Abel Ferrara came to the Locarno Film Festival, he was honored onstage in front of a thousand people. But when the seminal underground New York filmmaker arrived in town this week, he decided to remain under the radar. While putting the finishing touches on "Welcome to New York," a drama based on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn hotel maid scandal, Ferrara is finalizing plans for a biopic about Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, a project he has been hoping to get off the ground for years. While en route to Italy in the throes of pre-production, Ferrara quietly showed up in Locarno for the final days of the festival and sat down with Indiewire at his hotel to discuss his upcoming projects. 

What's the release plan with "Welcome to New York"?

Wild Bunch want to do it like a prizefight, a video on demand type thing. Like it comes out like the way you buy a Tyson fight. Sight unseen.

What about festival play?

I don't know. It was accepted in the Venice competition.

And you passed?

Yeah, we passed. I love Venice. That's my home country. We played Venice before. We won in Venice. "Mary" won the jury prize.

So you're over it?

I mean it's not that I'm over it. It's just a certain kind of film. With this film, it's about these guys and the world. Strauss-Kahn. When this cat got acquitted, it was front-page news around the world.

And that surprised you?

As much as people might say otherwise, nobody knows who's the head of the fucking world bank, the IMF. I'll give you a hundred dollars right now if you tell me who's the head of the world bank, of IMF. You don't know. Nobody knew who he was until that happened. He was doing his thing. He was going to be the president of France. How do you become president? You have to have to have a billion dollars. So DSK was going to become president and then this happens. Next thing you know, he rapes a maid in a hotel. All of a sudden, whoa, it's a big deal.

How would you describe your experience with Gerard Depardieu in the lead role?

Depardieu is the best casting choice. He's the real McCoy. When we shot with Depardieu, he just pulled a chair up before I got there. He has a passion for making movies like you've never seen in your life. I'm crazy, angry, pissed, all the bullshit of being a director -- and he's got not a worry in the fucking world.

Did you set out to produce a faithful take on what happened?

Welcome To New York

I set out to do it faithfully, but… I'm preparing a film about Pasolini, too. You start doing a film about somebody and all of a sudden you get the somebody who's playing it. With"4:44," I was doing a film about me and my girlfriend, and all of a sudden Dafoe's playing me. Wait a minute. Well, Willem isn't about playing me. Same with Depardieu. He doesn't really give a fuck about Strauss-Kahn, because, you know, is Strauss-Kahn a financial genius? Let me know tell you something. Depardieu has made about eight times as much money as Strauss-Kahn. Strauss-Kahn spends the bank's money, not his own. Depardieu, a single fucking guy from a poor fucking town in the middle of nowhere, has made about a billion dollars in his life. He's a fucking madman. He's an icon. How many guys are really like that? I said, "Dude, your life is like 35 times more interesting than anything we could think of." He would tell me stories. I researched a documentary about Strauss-Kahn for two years, but this guy's played him.

So what period of time does the film cover?

Well, we didn't shoot his childhood. You know, they grew up in Morocco, and I don't know what these guys did. All of a sudden they hit Paris and it's like off to the races, a chick trip. But the film is about what happened in the [New York hotel] room. That's the question.

Do you include that scene?

Yeah, of sorts. I mean, we have to have that. What, are you going to show JFK and not see him get shot? Well, I saw "Lincoln," and they didn't show him getting shot. That movie sucked, right? What happened to the Civil War? Where's his crazy-ass wife? I'm a fucking expert on Lincoln, so that film was like… this guy could pull shit off, he was a con man. I didn't get anything about that film. What were they trying to say?

Do you think "Welcome to New York" is your most political film?

Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, every film is a political film.

In the case of DSK, global economics?

What was his role on the world stage? Yeah, right, what was the IMF's role on the world stage? What does the IMF actually do? What's DSK's game plan? Her story, the chick [DSK's ex-wife Anne Sinclair], has a better story.

In what sense?

Her grandfather was Picasso's dealer in WWII. Nobody's making money off anybody now. The Gestapo's coming to town. Picasso says, "You've gotta protect my paintings." The guy left this close to getting gassed. He goes to New York. He's got money. In the next 10 - 15 years, he goes from being a millionaire to a billionaire. Now this is what nobody wants to talk about: How the fuck did he become a billionaire? That's the real movie, what happened to the paintings? The whole fight is over these paintings. Now this guy becomes a billionaire. This is all backstory [for the movie]. His granddaughter goes to Paris and becomes the Charlie Rose of Paris. DSK's a university professor. He's not a rich guy. But she falls in love with him. She's one of the richest women in the world. She has like 50 Picassos. She rented a house to an Iranian -- and this is in the movie a little bit -- and he thought he had this beautiful pad, with all this art that he bought. Then she comes in and [says], "Can you get out now and take all these shitty paintings with you?" The next minute she takes these Gauguins and throws them up against the wall. 

Next: DSK's libido, Depardieu's performance, and the Pasolini project.