April 16, 2009 / 10:55 PM / 10 years ago

Director Jewison laments the loss of art in U.S. film

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When award-winning director Norman Jewison, whose hits range from “In the Heat of the Night” to “Moonstruck,” talks about Hollywood today, he does so with a fondness for an industry he sees as an integral part of the world.

Canadian Academy Award winning director Norman Jewison wears a Canadian Film Centre cap as he arrives at a luncheon celebrating the Canadian nominees for the Academy Awards at the residence of the Consul General of Canada in Los Angeles, California February 22, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

But there is one ingredient Jewison says is now missing from U.S.-made motion pictures, which was not always the case. He says the art in filmmaking is mostly gone even in some of the so-called “independent” films from studio divisions.

“Art missing — a lot of it,” he told Reuters recently. “When you look back 15 years at any type of awards that are given, you will find that there are very few major Hollywood films honored. I don’t know how to change that.”

Jewison, who will be honored on Friday by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Canadian Film Center he founded and nonprofit organization Film Independent, linked the drop-off

in artfully done U.S. movies to the rise of corporate-owned Hollywood studios focused on bottom line profits.

Even in the low-budget “indie” film arena, he said moviemakers are forced to hire big-name stars who will perform for a low salary or find a strong marketing angle to lure audiences before productions get funded. As a result, quality storytelling has taken a back seat to profit potential.

“The film should be the star. The story should be the star,” he said. “Maybe we’ve lost our confidence in stories.”

Jewison, 82, should know.

Along with seminal race relations film “In the Heat of the Night” and romantic comedy “Moonstruck,” Jewison’s movies include “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Agnes of God,” “The Hurricane,” and the list goes on.

He has directed serious dramas and madcap comedies, and worked in television and on film in the United States and around the world.

His films have won 12 Oscars. He has been nominated for four, and in 1999, he was given the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Irving Thalberg Award for his long career.

That’s not bad for a one-time struggling actor who started his career in Toronto, driving a cab. In a nod to his former hometown and country, Jewison founded the Canadian Film Center in 1988 to support and teach Canadian film and filmmakers.

“It’s been an exciting experience and probably one of the most exciting of my career,” he said of his work with the CFC. “Everyone should give back to their own field of endeavor.”

While Jewison said major movies lacked art, he did not disparage Hollywood. In fact, he called it “the ultimate dream factory” and said that in the past 50 years, film has been “the most important medium of communication” around the world.

“I know there’s a lot of schlock out there and I know films are made for money,” he said. “But film has been the dominant art form of the last 100 years and I think it expresses this country...Americans should be proud of their film history.”

Jewison said it was hard to pick favorites among all the movies he has made because each one was different, and making them were all different experiences.

“Heat of the Night,” for instance, seemed to hit theaters at just the right time — the civil rights era — to have an impact, whereas after “The Cincinnati Kid,” people began to take me seriously as a film director.

Jewison grew disillusioned with U.S. politics in the late 1960s and 1970s, so he moved to Europe to make movies. But he contends he never quit making Hollywood-style films.

“The business is terrible,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s been good to me.”

Editing by Jill Serjeant

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