Thursday, April 25, 2024

Oscar Winning Director Sam Mendes on How His Grandfather’s Stories of World War I Inspired the Stunning “1917”


“1917.” Ron Meyer and Donna Langley recently hosted the first screening for Academy voters and tastemakers at the Linwood Dunn in Hollywood. Director Sam Mendes, the actors George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman, the Director of Photography Roger Deakins, the Writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns, the Producer Pippa Harris and the film’s composer Thomas Newman were there.

At the pre-reception I asked Mendes how it felt that the film already is garnering glowing notices and awards buzz. “Considering that we just finished it eight days ago it’s all a bit surreal.” Roger Deakins–who at 70 has been nominated for an Oscar 14 times and only recently won in 2018 for “Blade Runner”– told me, “I hope people like the film, that’s all that matters. All of that is just hoopla. I love working on movies. That’s it. It’s nice when people appreciate your work, but I judge my own work and I know when I’ve done something, I feel I could have done better or achieved something. I can’t really be totally objective about it. “Give me a year or so and I’ll come back to watch it and I won’t think of all the things I could have done better. “

Donna Langley then introduced Mendes. She noted “This is a film that Sam Mendes seemed destined to make. It’s not only a tribute to his grandfather who served honorably in the great war and who shared his stories of that unfathomable experience with his young grandson. But it represents the full cumulative power of Sam’s vision and his talent and tenacity as a storyteller. It’s one of those rare films that reverberate with you long after you leave the theater.”

Mendes then took the stage and noted “This is my first chance publicly to say thank you to all of those who helped me make the film. It’s not an easy film to cough up the dough for when you have two leading actors who are relatively speaking new to the game. But they trusted me, and I hope you see in the movie that these two wonderful actors re-paid that trust tenfold. It’s a strange environment, where movies like this are rarer and rarer. Middle budget movies that are not 250-million-dollar franchise movies nor are they 20 million-dollar independent movies. So, it’s your civic duty to tell everyone to come and see this film.” He went on to thank some of the people that are involve with the film, and quipped, “including a young cinematographer whom I’ve given an early chance too, he needed a lot of help from me. But with my wisdom and insight I think he can amount to something, Roger Deakins.”

Sam  switched gears and told the origin of the story. “This was inspired by my grandfather. He fought in the great war from 1916 to 1918. He enlisted as a 17-year-old. My fascination with the war started watching him when I was eleven years old, he used to wash his hands over and over again. I said to my father ‘Why does Granddad do that silly thing of watching his hands all the time?’ He said, ‘Well he remembers the mud of the trenches and the fact that he could never get clean. And this man was in his late 70’s and still it was in his body and in his soul, the experiences he had when he was a teenager. He told me a story of carrying one message across no man’s land. That little acorn of that stayed with me and grew into the script. It’s not my grandfather’s story directly but it’s very much his spirit that remains alive in this movie. “

Leah Sydney
Leah Sydney
Leah Sydney writes from Los Angeles for A seasoned journalist with a long history during the halcyon days of the NY Daily News, Leah is a member of the Critics Choice and Rotten Tomatoes.

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