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It gets progressively more difficult to find great contemporary filmmakers worthy of honoring. But The Film Society of Lincoln Center focused on an excellent choice in devoting its recent annual tribute to Francis Ford Coppola. In addition to having an outstanding honoree, the resulting program presented at Avery Fisher Hall on May 7, 2002, was impeccable in the roster of speakers. This wasn't a mere celebrity roundup. Each speaker had a reason for being there, had something interesting to say about Coppola and said it entertainingly. The film clips assembled provided all the reasons needed to show why Coppola holds a special place among directors and visionaries of cinema with bold, ambitious dreams and the determination to realize them even at the risk of costly failure.

The highlight, apart from Coppola himself, was an appearance by Al Pacino, who humorously spun stories about the making of "The Godfather" films. Others who took to the platform were also effective. Diane Lane was charming in telling what working with Coppola in "Rumble Fish" and "The Cotton Club" had meant to her, as was Shirley Knight concerning "The Rain People." Jeff Bridges lauded Coppola based on their association in the filming of "Tucker: The Man and His Dream." George Lucas was presented in a film clip in which he extolled Coppola's importance to the medium. There was also a touching--and humorous--tribute by the director's sister, Talia Shire.

The evening had class, with none of the silly writing or comments like those at which we groan during the Oscars. Wendy Keys who programmed and directed the event deserves plaudits, as do Joanna Ney as writer and Donald P. Finamore as post-production supervisor and editor.

Coppola himself had plenty of importance to say, spontaneously if you accept his word, about the necessity for directors like himself to make films independently because he can't make the films he wants under the blockbuster dictates of big studio, corporate mentality. He sees hope for the future of cinema in such independence.

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