Francis Ford Coppola’s most enduring movies have explored troublesome American themes – power, empire, violence, surveillance – yet, as it is with great art, they’re somehow emphatically universal in their concerns – family, succession, disillusionment, war, honor. A proud scion of Italian immigrants and a devoutly dedicated family man whose inner circle comprises a formidable film community all by itself, Coppola is also a genuine man of the world: writer, entrepreneur, film studio innovator, winemaker, restaurateur. As hotelier, he has enriched his properties with the same passion and palate for place-evoking, scene-setting detail that bathes his films: hand-painted frescoes at Palazzo Margherita in Italy’s Basilicata region, his grandfather’s birthplace; toucan-bright textiles at La Lancha in Guatemala; in every room of his thatched Belize hotels—Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn—a “shell phone.”
It is a testament to the unsurpassed brilliance, humanity and narrative sweep of Coppola’s best work that three of his films, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now, have held a place among the public and critical establishment that – shockingly, in a culture where tastes change by the hour – has not waned even a little going on nearly half a century. He is a man of personal and artistic integrity and, above all, of peace. Coppola’s veins course with wine, music and the stories of a lifetime. He’s seen a place or two. We’re fortunate that he shared a few with us.
Alex Postman: Is there a film you saw when you were younger that sparked your curiosity about a part of the world you were unfamiliar with—and maybe even inspired you to travel there?
Francis Ford Coppola: Well, when I was very young, it was The Man Who Could Work Miracles and Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda in England (my brother took me, also to their production of The Thief of Bagdad as a young theater student). As a young theater student of 17 years old, it was October: Ten Days That Shook the World, by Sergei Eisenstein, which shook me and caused me to drop out of theater and go to film school at UCLA.
I heard you fell in love with Belize and Guatemala, where you later opened three hotels, because they reminded you of the locations where you shot Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. True?
Well, I became accustomed to the jungle and liked it, and liked the islands and beaches of the Philippines. But even though there was a beautiful one I could actually buy, my wife correctly mentioned that it was so far away I’d probably not be able to go there very often. So when I read that British Honduras was becoming the independent nation of Belize in 1981, I went there with my young son to take a look.
Your portrayal of village life in Sicily in The Godfather trilogy is so vivid and enduringly defining for audiences (which we were reminded of with the release of Coda, your re-edit of The Godfather Part III). What are the unique qualities of Sicily you were trying to evoke?
Sicily is a very beautiful destination, and its people are totally friendly and kind and accepting to guests. That is why one never takes advantage of their generosity, similar to Philippine people, because if you betray their kindness, they will kill you.
Napa and Sonoma, where your winery is based, have been through so much trauma over the last few years. How have you adapted your vineyards to the reality of climate change?
The reality of climate change is a possible dead end for thousands of years of this style of human civilization. We either will change significantly, or we will find a dead end and homo sapiens will be extinct.
Who in the next generation of filmmakers are most skilled at conjuring a vivid sense of place through their films? (In addition to your daughter, Sofia, who nails it every time!)
There are so many. The talent of young filmmakers is so abundant all over the world, of all sexes, all nationalities, all races. Human talent springs up like wildflowers everywhere, and constantly. Chloé Zhao, Alfonso Cuarón…there are many dazzling talents.
The Trust Questionnaire
Where will your next vacation be?
Perhaps Marlon Brando’s Tetiaroa Atoll [in French Polynesia]
The thing you can’t travel without?
My iPhone for pictures
When are you or have you been happiest while traveling?
When my family is with me.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be?
The penthouse of Claridge’s, where Alexander Korda lived.
The place/trip that challenged you most?
Mexico, except for Oaxaca and Mexico City.
The most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling?
Prepared by Mrs. Morizono, wife of Sony’s Deputy President, Mr. Masahiko Morizono.
The strangest place you’ve spent a night?
A suite in Thessaloniki so big it took five minutes to walk to the door, and the bathroom featured his and hers’ toilets facing each other.
What is your favorite market in the world?
It was a market in Paris—Buci. But it was replaced by chain stores, like Paul’s.
What are your showoff spots in your hometown?
My hometown? Where I live in Rutherford [CA]? The Inglenook Courtyard – it is sooooo beautiful.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be?
Cleopatra VII’s Egypt
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month and why?
Scotland or England. Wonderful people and, at least in Ireland’s case, great ice cream.
Where are you embarrassed that you’ve never been?
What was the most memorable, wonderful trip you ever experienced?
I’d have to say it was a trip we took to Syria about ten years ago, before the heartbreaking war that destroyed so much. We visited Damascus, Aleppo, and Palmyra and throughout Syria, we found the people kind, wonderful and welcoming; the country prosperous and happy; the food spectacular. All in all the most wonderful trip I have ever had. I will never forget it. It stands in my memory as a testament to the stupidity and unnecessary-ness and horror of war. One wonders, after such a trip, visiting such a seemingly happy, civilized country, who started that war?
PRIOR’s Editorial Director was previously the Features Director at Condé Nast Traveler and Director of Editorial Content for Chantecaille. She started her career as the Paris editor of the Fodor’s guide, and until she found her way back to her favorite subject, she was the Executive Editor of ELLE US and Editor in Chief of Whole Living, among other roles. She loves paper maps and a great big hotel bed.