During a 45-minute Q&A session he talked about his motivations and the factors underlying his choice of subjects, including that of his upcoming film “Silence”.
He described filming “Last Temptation of Christ,” lensed in Morocco, as a passionate process motivated by his own search for an inner spiritual core, which had once made him to want to become a priest.
“The film was an exploration of the meaning of faith. But during the process of making the film the mystery became even deeper for me and I realized I’d only scratched the surface…I’m obsessed with the search for a spiritual core in life. That’s what my most personal films are about, including ‘Mean Streets’, ‘Last Temptation’ and ‘Kundun’, both shot in Morocco, my recent documentary on George Harrison and the film I’d like to make next, ‘Silence.’”
Asked whether such projects have changed him as a person, Scorsese replied that he’d hoped that would happen but it didn’t occur.
“‘Mean Streets’ was about me, my friends and at a more complex level about my father and brother. I killed De Niro in that film. It screened on the night of my thirtieth birthday and I hoped it would exorcise my demons, but it didn’t.”
In terms of his advice to aspiring filmmakers he said. “It’s a bit like going to training camp. You have to keep exercising and strive to protect your initial desire. Because everything is set up to make you lose that desire. You have to protect that spark of energy.”
Scorsese told how Stanley Kubrick had informed producer Jan Harlan that he’d be able to shoot “Eyes Wide Shut” in 70 days instead of the initially planned 89 days but ended up taking a year. “You really believe that. But once you start, you’re caught up. You have no alternative but to finish the film.”
He confided that during the filming of two pics over the last 10 years he wanted to abandon the projects, but refrained from naming them.
The helmer stated that he has a great love and admiration of African filmmakers, including Senegalese director, Ousmane Sembene and Desire Ecare’s “Faces of Women,” and as president of the World Cinema Foundation, has been involved in digital restoration of several African films.
“I’ve seen films from West Africa, Nigeria, all over the continent – they’re really inspiring. They seem to focus on two main issues – contemporary social issues and historical, almost mythological questions. It’s the mythology that’s really overwhelmed me. I’d really like to help African film production in any way I can.”
He then talked about the two key periods of his work, first in collaboration with Robert de Niro and then with Leonardo DiCaprio, with a 15 year “diaspora” between the two. He revealed that it was de Niro who introduced him to DiCaprio.
“Robert de Niro is the only person working in this business who knows who I am and where I come from. He just looks at me and we know…We worked together on a series of films in which we mined some very deep emotions and psychological issues. We just gravitated to those stories – we knew we were barbarians in that sense.”
Scorsese recalled how they had laughed when the New York Times wrote an article about “Raging Bull,” entitled “What’s happened to language in the cinema?”, but suggested that the language in his latest pic, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is far worse – “They’re making money, you know.”
In relation to DiCaprio, Scorsese said that the actor, who’s 30 years his junior, “regenerated my enthusiasm for making films… As you get older, it’s more physically difficult and there’s tremendous pressure due to the money – whether it’s $500,000 or $150 million.”
At 71, the helmer revealed that he thinks he only has a couple more films left in him and admitted, “I miss the time when I had the desire to experiment.”
He also explained that it’s often been the actors who’ve suggested projects and got him to make the film – including de Niro, the late Paul Newman and DiCaprio. “It all comes down to trust,” he suggested. “But ultimately I have the final say and the final cut.”
On that note, Scorsese left the school he has godfathered since its birth, and prepared for Marrakech’s final award ceremony.
Marrakech’s ESAV film school enrolls 30 students a year for a 3-year course. 70% of students are from Morocco, but the other 30% includes students from the UK, France, Spain and Africa.
95% of lectures are provided by visiting professors, who simultaneously work in some of Europe’s top film schools including the Femis and Louis Lumiere schools in France and INSAS in Belgium.
The school’s teaching program has helped launch a new generation of young helmers.
Half of the short films playing in the fest’s Cinecoles competition came from ESAV, including the winning film “Bad,” and their quality and professionalism was highlighted by jury member and helmer, Jan Kounen.
At the school, Martin Scorsese is organizing a film club program based on classic Hollywood and Italian films.
This was the first time that he’d returned to the school since its 2007 inauguration.