Zeros and Ones writer-director Abel Ferrara discusses storytelling, making a film during pandemic

click to enlarge Ferrara's new film Zeros and Ones is currently available on VOD, and will release on Blu-Ray and DVD on Jan. 4, 2022. - Aude Guerrucci
Aude Guerrucci
Ferrara's new film Zeros and Ones is currently available on VOD, and will release on Blu-Ray and DVD on Jan. 4, 2022.
There’s not much middle ground when processing the kind of dark arthouse films Abel Ferrara writes and directs.

Even after five decades, Ferrara’s approach to filmmaking remains equal parts provocative and polarizing. From his grimy 1992 crime drama Bad Lieutenant starring Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel to his six collaborations with Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe, including the 2019 fantasy Siberia, Ferrara’s contributions to the film industry are, if anything, ambitious.

The same can be said about his latest movie Zeros and Ones. The action-drama stars Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) as an American soldier stationed in Rome who’s thrust into the center of a terror plot to destroy the Vatican.

During a recent interview with the Current, Ferrara talked about choosing the holy city as the film’s prime target, making a movie during the pandemic and how his relationship with storytelling has changed over his career.

Zeros and Ones is currently available on VOD platforms and on Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 4, 2022.

A lot of movies centered on terrorism focus on a specific landmark or event like the White House or the Super Bowl. Why did you choose the Vatican for this film?

You’re talking about a battle of East and West — Christianity and not-Christianity. Like the World Trade Center, the Vatican is an icon of the West — the religion of the West.

How did your own thoughts on religion play a role in crafting this story?

Right now, I practice Buddhism. My Buddhism brings me closer to Jesus in reality. You make a film in Rome about the Vatican … you’re making a film about the Catholic religion. It all goes hand in hand.

Many artists have been inspired to make art during the pandemic, but there were just as many who weren’t. Where did you find the fortitude to make films over the past two years?

It’s in my nature. This is what I do. I’m not going to get depressed by it. What are you going to do, take a “Why me” approach? Why me? Why not me? Why the pandemic? Why not the pandemic? Who wrote the book where everyone is entitled to a happy ending or middle or beginning? The world has been turned inside out from the beginning of mankind. One hundred years ago, the same thing happened. It’s what is. Shit happens, bro. You can’t let it throw you off. You have to accept it and understand it. It isn’t anything against you. It’s life on life’s terms.

You don’t mention COVID-19 in the film. Did you make that decision so you don’t age it?

No, it’s a war movie with its own ground rules. We’re talking more about World War I poison warfare. It’s the pandemic as an element of war — as another tool of destruction. We don’t mention a specific thing because they don’t know what it is. They’re just being prepared for something. They don’t know what is out there. This is like St. Petersburg in World War II. They’re under siege. There’s that vibe. The enemy is coming. Where and when is the question.

You’ve been making movies for 50 years now. Over that time, how has your relationship with storytelling changed?

Hopefully, I’m learning something as I’m going along. Story is a strange word. A film is 90 minutes of images and sound. You walk away with a feeling and an understanding and a concept. What is a story anyway?

What led you to cast Ethan Hawke?

I like everything about him. I like the films he does and what he does in them. I like him as a person. We’ve been trying to do something together. It just came together.

How do you ultimately decide what your next project is going to be?

It’s about what I can learn. It’s about my growth as a person and us together as a group. I’m looking for something that can take me somewhere that can enrich me as a person on every level. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t have to know how it’s going to end. I don’t even care if it has an ending. It just has to lead me to a better place all around. I don’t have to be challenged as a filmmaker. I just want a place where we can do our best work.

Are there any filmmakers today that excite you with the work they’re making?

I wouldn’t want to say one name. I go to a lot of festivals where I meet a lot of filmmakers. I love the movies, [but] when you’re in an editing room and on a set all day long, I don’t watch so many. I’ve got my own problems.

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