If it weren’t for “On the Waterfront,” the Screen Actors Guild probably wouldn’t be honoring Sydney Pollack at this year’s Palm Springs Film Festival.

“I had a pipe dream in my late teens about being an actor when I saw Marlon Brando,” says the director of “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa.” “It just blew me away. I thought, wow, if you could act like that, what a profession it would be. So I tried, went to New York City, which led me into directing.”

But Pollack also belongs to the generation of directors who looked beyond Hollywood for inspiration, so it’s fitting that he should be honored at an event that celebrates international film.

“When I was young and beginning a career as a director, I was most influenced by the New Wave films,” he recalls, slipping the names of Fellini, Bergman and Antonioni alongside Truffaut and Godard. “They were not horizontal films. They were all vertical explorations of characters and inner feelings and thoughts.”

Asked for a specific example, Pollack mentions “Jules and Jim”: “It’s relatively plotless: Three characters spend time together and then get jealous.” And yet the film fascinated the young director, suggesting a new realm of possibility in cinema not being explored by the American movies of the time.

“I am personally drawn to the darkness of Bergman,” he explains. “I thought his melancholy was so poetically expressed in a film like ‘Wild Strawberries,’ with this man looking back at his life and the pathos of a life ending.”

Regarding the more recent foreign-language scene, Pollack names Krzysztof Kieslowski as a personal favorite, especially his “Three Colors” trilogy. “Who could make a film on liberty, one on equality and another on fraternity? But he did. His early death was tragic.”

Pollack doesn’t deny that Truffaut, et al., were heavily influenced by American films: “But they digested them and spit them back at us in a different form.”

The cycle continued as Pollack and others responded in turn.


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