Coppola to helm The Birth of a Nation remake
by Richard Parker
Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola has acknowledged that he has been working secretly with some 60 people full time for more than a year on a remake of The Birth of a Nation, which will be his first feature since The Rainmaker, filmed 10 years ago.
The original 1915 Civil War drama, directed by Hollywood pioneer D.W. Griffith is praised for its landmark cinematic innovations. However, it has remained highly controversial since its original release. "I feel that a new version is needed to exhibit the racism present in the 19th century," Coppola told Variety. "It will also bring up the nature of racism in today's society."
The film is scheduled for release in fall 2009, but Coppola told the magazine, "I'm aware of the new controversy that will occur, especially with my interpretation taking more material from the original novel." Thomas Dixon's book, The Clansman, was the basis for the then-popular stage version, as well as Griffith's film.
"However, we are making this as accurate to 1915 technology as possible, even to the point of using vintage cameras and foregoing the use of digital technology." The Oscar-winning director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now would not reveal names of actors working with him. "I wish not to harm the careers of the talent involved, but there will be some surprises."
An anonymous crew member revealed that white actors in blackface will be utilized instead of African-Americans. NAACP spokesperson Sybil McNabb says, "We acknowledge the talent of Mr. Coppola, but bringing back such harmful material to theaters will do nothing but harm." The original 1915 release was plagued with race riots and considered the catalyst for the Ku Klux Klan's new rise to prominence in the early 20th century.
Coppola denied that he started this project for the sake of sensationalism. "I think people have interpreted it as, 'a film on racism is racist.' But for me it was like, 'OK, I don't have anything more to prove, other than to myself, and I've got more money than I ever thought I would have. Let me go have some fun, you know?'"
The Birth of a Nation is being produced at Coppola's own American Zoetrope Studios, with distribution by United Artists in North America and United International Pictures in Europe.