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Scorsese turns sights on 17th century Japan

Scorsese is turning his sights to a story of missionaries in 17th century Japan. “Silence” is a long-cherished project that he hopes to shoot partially in Japan in summer 2008.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Martin Scorsese came to Cannes on a quest to save world cinema. Once he leaves, the great American filmmaker hopes to get to work on a foreign picture of his own.

Scorsese is turning his sights to a story of missionaries in 17th century Japan. “Silence” is a long-cherished project that he hopes to shoot partially in Japan in summer 2008.

Although it’s a period piece, Scorsese thinks it has lessons for America today.

“It raises a lot of questions about foreign cultures coming in and imposing their way of thinking on another culture they know nothing about,” Scorsese told The Associated Press on Thursday — raising his eyebrows just to make the point absolutely clear.

Scorsese is on a mission for international understanding in Cannes, where he launched his World Cinema Foundation, devoted to preserving and restoring neglected film treasures from around the world.

Ask him what international filmmakers he admires and the list goes on and on, starting with Italian greats such as Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellocchio.

Postwar cinema alone, especially, is a “very rich feast,” he said. “It was a great time to be alive, the late ’50s, early ’60s, and loving the cinema ... I’d like the younger ones to know this is where I got sustenance from, besides the Hollywood cinema.”

Scorsese, who’s also working on a documentary about the Rolling Stones, thinks American pop culture could use a jolt of outside influence.

“I think as an American, you see all the American films, we feed upon our own culture in a way,” he said. “And we just keep digesting it, re-digesting our own culture. After a while there’s no return, there’s no nourishment, there’s no depth. I believe that.”

Scorsese’s new international foundation is modeled on The Film Foundation, which Scorsese founded in the United States in 1990. He is backed by an advisory board of prominent directors, including the three Mexicans who have become the toast of Hollywood since they garnered 16 Academy Award nominations among them in February.

Guillermo Del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”) and Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”) signed a moviemaking partnership last week with Universal Pictures worth a reported $100 million.

Scorsese says he hopes studios that cut deals with foreign talent have the best intentions.

“The danger is, (the directors) may have to make one or two films that are more in the Hollywood line ... What I would hope is that studios nourish the nature of the filmmaker that they hire, really, instead of trying to change him or her,” Scorsese said.

Scorsese, 64, is busy at Cannes. Earlier Thursday, Scorsese gave a master class for young filmmakers. When the festival wraps up Sunday, he will hand out the award for the best film from a first-time director.

If Scorsese is spending so much time here, it’s because Cannes is close to his heart. He calls it the first place “to really recognize ... and welcome me.”

The French Riviera festival awarded him its top prize, the Palme d’Or, for “Taxi Driver” back in 1976. It wasn’t until three decades later that he finally took home Oscars (for best picture and best director for “The Departed”).