Vintage directors out to prove they're still hot in their seventies

In 50 years as a film director, Brian De Palma has created an impressive range of Hollywood hits, including Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. His more recent movies, including The Black Dahlia and Redacted, prove that he still knows how to direct. But at 72, he isn't proving it quite so often.

''This is a young man's profession, especially in America,'' De Palma says. ''They're looking for the next hot kid, rather than the guys in their late 60s and 70s.''

Excepting directors such as Clint Eastwood, who has been prolific since turning 70 more than a decade ago, and Martin Scorsese, who is about to reach that venerable age, it seems to have always been the case.

As they approach their 70s, most auteurs from the ''golden age'' of the 1970s are having trouble getting the backing for new movies, regardless of the ''classics'' they have directed.

De Palma was once a hot young director, back when Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston were still directing in their senior years. ''I've seen and done everything,'' he says. ''Of course, that doesn't mean much, but I can deal with anything. I've made independent films for nothing and big science fiction epics. But they don't really cast directors like that. It's like, 'who has the [latest] big box-office hit?' That's how it happens.''

The Greek director Costa-Gavras, 79, says filmmakers much older than him keep making movies. ''Manoel de Oliveira, for example, is 103,'' he says. (De Oliveira walked the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008, 79 years after his first film. He is now working on his latest project.)

For Costa-Gavras, it's 43 years since Z, which won an Oscar for best foreign language film. While he has made some excellent films since then, he agrees with De Palma. ''The producers and the people who finance movies go for the youngest people, which is quite normal.''

He sees another problem with older filmmakers: retaining the passion. ''I think the only idea for a director now, speaking personally, is to keep having a passion, to like cinema, to keep being a viewer, to see it with the freshness that a viewer has. I like to go to the movies a lot, and I like to be surprised.''

Although he is best known as a 1970s heartthrob on screen, Robert Redford won a directing Oscar for his first film, 1980's Ordinary People, and has since shot eight more including Quiz Show, The Horse Whisperer, The Legend Of Bagger Vance and Lions For Lambs.

Redford, 76, believes that he's improved with experience.

''Technically, you just get better each time, as you learn more about the camera,'' he says.

At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, there were chances to test that theory, as De Palma, Redford and Costa-Gavras all unveiled new movies. Were they really as good as they used to be?

Like many De Palma films, the peculiar Passion harkens back to the film noir movies of his childhood, as two femmes fatale (Rachel McAdams as an evil blonde and Noomi Rapace as a mysterious brunette) play sinister games. As well as the 1940s, it seems to parody the excessive style that De Palma and others were using back in the 1970s, complete with an overbearing musical score.

De Palma, who seems to take it seriously, suggests another reason why Hollywood studios (with whom he has frequently clashed) prefer younger directors, remembering the power he wielded over 1983's Scarface.

''People would say 'This is the worst movie I've ever seen!' [and] I basically said, 'Sorry! That's it. I'm not changing it.' But it got harder and harder.

''I don't think the young directors have final cut the way the older directors do. They [the studios] would much rather a director they can control. Directors of my generation, they don't really like working with.''

However, De Palma embraces new technology. Redford is more sceptical. ''Things are changing so fast,'' the actor-director says. ''I haven't decided yet whether I think digital is really better than film.''

Redford's latest movie (shot on film) is The Company You Keep, in which he directs himself as a former firebrand of the 1970s protest movement, facing his previous alleged crimes. It's no Ordinary People, but it's a perfectly watchable thriller, worth seeing for the cameos from fellow veterans Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte playing his cohorts.

Meanwhile, Costa-Gavras's Capital is a not-so-far cry from the political intrigue of the Greek director's earlier films, set in the immoral world of international banking. While not as violent or fast-paced as his thrillers, the story of intrigue in the financial world is equally gripping and by accident, well-timed. Indeed, it's possibly his best film since Z. None of these movies is scheduled for Australian release yet, but long may they keep making them.

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