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After three commercially successful feature films and as many documentaries, Jonathan Nossiter made it into Cannes Competition in 2004 with Mondovino, his global snapshot of wine and the people who make and sell it. But ďitís not about winemakingĒ he insists; itís about the people, a Dickensian cast of characters, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

In the production of Mondovino, what was the shooting ratio of footage to wine?
[laughs for a few seconds] Iíd say it was probably three litres per hour, and 500 hours of footage. There was so much material I couldnít get into the feature film so it also became a tv series Ė but it will exist on DVD as much as on television; it has nothing to do with conventional television.

What triggered and shaped your idea for a film about the winemaking world? 
The fact is, itís not about winemaking Ė or wine. Wine is the setting, but the film is really about clash of lifestyles, clash of cultures. The people Ö family tensions and so on Öit has more in common with a Dickens novel than it does with documentary. Itís a Dickensian cast of characters. I knew that wine people were unusually vivid and charismatic. I suspected that they could perform in front of the camera with the same intensity Iíd seen in some movie stars that Iíve worked with. [Ed: includes Charlotte Rampling, Stellan Skarsgard, John Hurt, Sting, Quentin Crisp]

What was or were the surprises for you in the making of the film?
How much wine I could drink and still remember not to turn the camera off [laughs]. I normally make fiction films so if I spend four years of my life doing this, it was because every day was a surprise. There is an amazing cast of characters that I have yet to meet a screen writer capable of dreaming up. This is the motivation. 

Who or what was the most memorable experience in making the film?
I try to avoid hierarchy in life as much as in wine or filmmaking Ö What was interesting to me was the accumulation of relationships. To be able to shoot one week with Brazilians in the outback of Brazil near the equator, and the following week to be in a Florentine palazzo with a decadent aristocrat discussing Mussolini. A week after that, to be with a hard nosed, combative, inventive New York (Brooklyn) wine importer Ö this was the interest. The juxtaposition of relationships Ė that was interesting.

How has the making of Mondovino changed your view of the world of wine and its people?
Iíd say itís changed my view of the world in general because whence goes the wine world goes the world. The film is intended for non-wine people. To have the privilege to travel to 10 countries and look at the lifestyle of the rich and famous as well as the poor and marginal and everyone in between, has given me a greater sense of the human dimension of globalization. Itís an intimate look at what it means for human beings to be engaged in combat for and against globalization.

Youíre a filmmaker but also a trained sommelier with a track record at some fine New York restaurants; which came first and what led to each career strand?
Simultaneous Ö I keep not answering your questions, Iím sorry! I started working in restaurants in Paris when I was 15 and I started making films at about 20. Once my film career took off, I didnít want to let go of the wine side. Although wine writers tend to be more pretentious than anyone, wine people are less pretentious than film people, so itís a good antidote to the film biz. 

In fact you have another passion Ė art. You trained at the Beaux Arts in Paris and the San Francisco Art Institute, among others, and you merged filmmaking with art appreciation in Losing the Thread, a film about art fraud, tourism and the male ego Ö
Yeah, I was a shitty painter. But filmmaking is the trash heap for people with no discernable skill in anything else. Just as wine attracts people Ė except winemakers - who are basically one form of a fraud or another Ė including me. It means nothing to be a sommelier. Itís a joke. 

What wine or wines would you recommend to accompany the film?
Mmmmm Ö whatever wine gives you pleasure. Wine is like us; it is as infinitely varied and complex, so I would no more prescribe a girlfriend for you than I would wish you to prescribe me a wine. But if you have any suggestions Ö.[laughs]

Jonathan Nossiter currently lives in Rio de Janiero and is working on a film about foreigners living in Rio, again working with Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgard, among others. ďAll friends Ė we want to make a film about foreigners running amok in Rio.Ē 

Published September 15, 2005

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Jonathan Nossiter


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