Three Great Things: Eleanor Coppola

The writer-director, whose new film Love is Love is Love is in theaters, on nature, fearlessness and poetry.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the current release in theaters of Eleanor Coppola’s drama Love is Love is Love, starring Joanne Whalley, Chris Messina, Kathy Baker, Cybill Shepherd, Rosanna Arquette and Rita Wilson, the writer-director of Paris Can Wait and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse opened up about some of the things that are most important in her life at the moment. — N.D.

During the pandemic, I have been much more attentive to nature than I ever was before. I think other people may be experiencing that too, during this time when we’ve been cooped up inside for so long. I’ve found it to be a very nourishing part of life and something I’ve increasingly learned to appreciate. I have the great good fortune of living on a ranch and am able to walk in nature and observe the seasons and study the wildflowers and the birds on our bird feeders. We live up on a hill and don’t have any dogs, so we have a lot of wildlife around us – wild turkeys, a fox and a lot of deer. It’s like there’s a constant movie of beautiful nature passing by outside the window, and that’s been a great joy in my life.

I’ve always had a very good connection to nature, but I’ve never been isolated at home and able to take walks or be in nature so frequently, or notice the seasons so intensely. Recently, though, I’ve been there for when the wildflowers bloom, and have observed all these different natural phenomena. I wish I could say that I was scholarly about the things I’ve observed in nature, however I’ve been much more attentive and appreciative, and have really noticed things, because life goes by in these moments.

I realized that before this I just had my head down – I was focused on what was next – but now I’m taking time to be in this isolated, reflective mode and really see the sunsets and the things passing by that I just wasn’t just paying enough attention to. I was aware of the nature that was out there, but now I really notice it. My granddaughter has been teaching me the different kinds of clouds. “That’s a cumulus cloud, and that’s a nimbus…” and it’s been fun to just be more aware.

Doing Only What I Truly Care About
Partly due to isolation, I’ve noticed that I want to spend more time with the people who really nourish my spirit. There are people who give you energy just by their presence and what they want to talk about, and there are those who suck your energy, so to speak. I’m really willing to make that distinction now and not be polite, by saying yes to someone when I mean no. I’ve realized just how many social obligations I once had, how many fundraisers and other events I went to, but now I’m very selective and am reordering my life. I want to be around and engage with people who are focused on the things that I care about and have passion for, rather than just fulfill public obligations to be a nice person.

I recently went to a huge Joan Mitchell museum show in San Francisco. It was so powerful, partly because I haven’t been able to go to museums for such a long time. It was a very intense experience of really examining the paintings and being aware of how she interpreted these humongous, enormous canvases. And yet the small ones have this kind of intensity too, where her personality and her perspective comes through. I got enthralled with seeing this big show, whereas in the past it maybe wouldn’t have impacted me in the same way. The whole focus of what we’ve learned from this recent period is very present in my life today. I feel more myself now, and I also think it’s partly due to my age. There’s a point where you sort of get fearless.

Eleanor Coppola (center) with Cybill Shepherd (right) on the set of Love is Love is Love. (Photo by Kalman Muller.)

That fearlessness was the motivation for making my first feature film: So what, if it’s a disaster? Who cares? I have a certain kind of freedom that comes over you at my age, where you know you’re going to die, so you want to try things or do whatever you please. It’s given me a burst of energy toward doing some of these projects that as a younger person I would never have done. There’s a lot that comes from just being able to be more and more myself.

I feel as if I’m discovering poetry for the first time. I never really read it as a younger person, as it always just seemed like some obscure publication that belonged in the classroom, but poetry is entering my life now. I’m a big fan of Mary Oliver, who creates such beautiful imagery of nature and emotions. One of the lines in her poems says, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” She has provocative ideas that speak about the human condition, about nature, friendship and love, all things that are occupying me. I’m not specifically focused on one subject, it’s all kind of coming in the slow tapestry of life’s riches. It’s really one of the great times of my life.

I’ve always really liked haikus. I was drawn to that form, and I’ve tried to write them a little bit myself. When I have the opportunity to read and find poetry, my own little scribblings don’t inspire me, but I have been writing in other modes. I wrote a memoir in the past and I’ve been working on another one. It’s a documentary form where you’re observing and culling from your life, thoughts and experiences.

Because COVID-19 stopped us cold in our tracks and isolated us, these things have come to the fore and there’s been time to reinvestigate a thing like poetry, which I knew was a great art form, but never really looked into.

Featured image shows Eleanor Coppola with actors Roseanna Arquette and Rita Wilson during the filming of Love is Love is Love. Photo by Kalman Muller.

Eleanor Coppola is an accomplished artist and filmmaker. In 2016, at the age of 80, Eleanor directed her first feature film, Paris Can Wait, and her second feature, Love is Love is Love, three stories that explore love, commitment, and loyalty between couples and friends, is out now in theaters and will be on available on VOD on December 14. While living in the Philippines during the making of her husband Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, she shot the documentary footage for the Emmy award-winning film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. She has since made behind-the-scenes documentaries on seven films directed by her family. Eleanor’s drawings, photos, and conceptual art pieces have been exhibited in many galleries and museums. She created “Circle of Memory,” a large-scale straw-bale cairn, installed internationally, built to recall and commemorate children who are missing or have died. She has written two well-received books, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now (1979) and Notes on a Life (2008). She designed costumes for ODC/Dance, a contemporary dance company based in San Francisco. She is also actively involved in the Coppola family wine companies.