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Tetro is writer/director Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since 1974's The Conversation. It is his most personal film yet, arising from memories and emotions from his early life, though totally fictional. When Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) finds his long-estranged brother Tetro (Vincent Gallo) living in Buenos Aires, he discovers that his sibling, once a brilliant writer, is now tormented and self-destructive. A bittersweet story of two brothers, of family lost and found and the conflicts and secrets within a highly creative Argentine-Italian family, the drama co-stars Klaus Maria Brandauer, Maribel Verdú and Carmen Maura.

  Tetro by writer/director Francis Ford Coppola

It is a dream come true to be able to make personal films and have them shown in great theatres such as those of Landmark. Tetro is the kind of film I might have been making 35 years ago, had my career not taken an abrupt and sudden turn as it did with The Godfather. Sure, it was exhilarating to find myself an important Hollywood director, with all that came with it. But as the years went on, I found myself unable to be comfortable making genre films, or trying to avoid becoming a gangster film director, with all that came with that: stabbings, shootings, car crashes and strangulations. It became pretty clear that even if well-paid, a Hollywood director is expected to do what the company who employs him wants, often with the script supplied. And most times it is a genre film of some type, if not a gangster film, then take your choice between a thriller, a caper film, a romantic comedy (nothing wrong with that) but in all cases something that doesn't veer too far from a film made previously that was very successful. As I stewed in those juices, I found myself dissatisfied, and frustrated over the fact that even though I had made successful films and won plenty of awards, I still would have to go, hat in hand, to beg permission to make something other than what they wanted.

With Apocalypse Now, I ultimately found I had to finance it myself. Financing movies is a perilous activity, especially when the films are as unusual as I wanted to make. At first Apocalypse Now seemed as if it would bury me—the initial reaction wasn't good, despite some acknowledged spectacular scenes, but it was deemed too philosophical or worse, 'arty'—which is the ultimate damning word that can be used on a film. Well, I thought, weren't most of Ingmar Bergman's films 'arty but good'? As were the many films of Federico Fellini or Akira Kurosawa—or perhaps not 'arty' but certainly they went their own way, and didn't just fall into categories by genre. Maybe those films weren't financial powerhouses, but they stayed with you and were inspirational. And also, they were all different from any other films being made. That in the end is my main criteria for enjoying a film: that I never saw it before or anything quite like it.

At any rate, things got worse for me after I ventured further into the unknown with another self-financed film, One From The Heart. I have few regrets in my life, if any—but I do regret the decision I made about three weeks before shooting on that film started, not to shoot it as live TV as I had planned, but to go it one shot at a time. So yes, I have one regret in life, which was to back off the style of shooting I had planned. But for my sins, I was punished and my life as a Hollywood director changed. I was in debt for $25 million dollars. I had to make a payment each year, in October I remember, of $3 million, a daunting task and only possible if I directed a movie each year. So now I was sort of in bondage, and needed a job that could pay me at that level each year. I couldn't refuse and worse, sometimes went begging for an assignment. At least I had the rule that I needed something about the project, even though I hadn't written it, that I could fall in love with; on Peggy Sue Got Married it was to make it in the style of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, on Jack it was to work with Robin Williams, and so on. Finally, after Dracula the debt was paid, and I just needed to do three more films to have a little money for myself and my family and I could stop. That turned out to be only two more, and I did stop—and wondered what was next for me, what would my place be in movies, if indeed I was even to make movies again.

Many years went by. I set out to do my film of films, something so ambitious that I would be at the very edge of my abilities. It was called Megalopolis and it was meant to be a film about utopia. But the world changed right at that moment and in the light of the wars and dystopia that followed and still persists, my film crumbled in my hands, even if I had been able to raise the many millions it would have taken to produce it. Fortunately, the wine and hotel businesses I had begun with the proceeds of my last two 'director for hire' films, were beginning to show vigor and it was possible for me to support my family without making films I didn't especially want to make, or even types of films I didn't want to make.

Then, taking inspiration from my daughter who had learned the very same tricks from me, I decided to return to my youth, and realizing that the smaller the budget of a film the greater the ideas of that film could be, began to self-finance the very kinds of films I had hoped to make at the beginning. It was like trying to find myself, and my place, after being away a long time. Like the Samurai in Yojimbo, weakened and beaten, who lies in a box trying to get his strength and skills back. I took a story from Mircea Eliade, Youth Without Youth, and thought if I followed his guidance, I could find myself. The film was totally unorthodox, in structure and intention, but it was what I wanted to do. When it was done, I found the film audience had ventured even further away from anything other than the pre-made, pre-measured genre films that I had tried to escape from, and now wanted even their independent films to be mini-Hollywood ventures. No matter, I thought, the idea was to find myself and I had done that. Now, the next step was to pick up where I had left off, and write an original story and screenplay, something I hadn't done for 30 years since The Conversation.

The result is Tetro, which you are about to see soon at a Landmark theatre near you. I hope you will find it moving, as it is drawn from real emotions related to my experiences and life—though not in any way autobiographical. I hope you wish me well on this new career of mine. It was the one I always wanted from the beginning, to be an independent filmmaker, writing stories and making personal films. God knows what will come next!