An interview with James Ivory

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Filmmaker James Ivory

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Director James Ivory is known best under the moniker “Merchant-Ivory,” which he shares with Indian-born producer Ismail Merchant. They are known for their stately period pieces and costume dramas, such as “A Room with a View” (1985), “Howards Ends” (1992) and “The Remains of the Day” (1993).

But Ivory has directed other, more personal films such as 1990’s “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” which screened at Pacific Film Archive last month, and “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” from 1998. This film will screen at the PFA on Saturday, April 7. Abutting the screening is a conversation with Ivory and critic/essayist Phillip Lopate.

Ivory, an 83-year-old Berkeley native and New York transplant, was slated to visit the Bay Area last fall, but a leg injury forced him to reschedule. He’s looking forward to returning to the PFA this weekend.

“I don’t always get to see my films on the big screen,” he told me in a phone interview. “Years after a film has released theatrically, it’s hard to round up prints. They tend to disintegrate or get thrown away or disappear. You can always make a print, but nobody wants to do that.” A substantial portion of the Merchant-Ivory print collection resides at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.

The movies shown in PFA’s ongoing “James Ivory, Three Films from Novels” series — “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” and “Le Divorce” (2003) — under the curation of Kathy Geritz are about “close family connections,” Ivory said. “I also wanted to feature our French films, because people don’t realize we have made more French than English films. Also, there’s a lot of stuff about ‘Soldier’s Daughter’ that’s personal to me.”

Following his UC Berkeley appearance on Saturday, Ivory will speak at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on Sunday, April 8. The event begins at 1 p.m., with a screening of Ivory’s 1983 “Heat and Dust,” adapted from the 1975 novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. The film, set in the lavish world of 1920s colonial India and also in its aftermath, complements the museum’s exhibit “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts,” which closes that day.

“Our view is not a particularly glamorous one,” Ivory says of “Heat and Dust” which tackles issues of English empire and post-colonial struggle in India. “There was glamor about it, especially in the eyes of westerners, but it was also a dark and sometimes rather bloody world, which we have not failed to mention.”

Ivory, known for his literary adaptations and work with the novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, has not made a film since 2009’s “The City of Your Final Destination,” but he hopes to soon begin bringing Shakespeare’s “Richard II” — my personal favorite of the history plays — to the screen.

For general information about the 4/7 event at Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley) visit: http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/calendar/day/04072012.
For general information regarding the 4/8 Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin Street, S.F.) event, visit: http://www.asianart.org/helios/events/index.php?eID=3065.