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Bill Pohlad on 'Into the Wild' and Chinese espionage

Posted at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2007 by Euan Kerr

Bill Pohlad is a busy man. His Sean Penn written and directed film "Into the Wild" is rolling out across the country in gradual release (it opens in the Twin Cities on Friday) and in early October the controversial new Ang Lee film "Lust Caution" opens in the US. Pohlad's company Riverroad Productions has a hand in both.

Pohlad was very much involved in the making of "Into the Wild" with is Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's bestselling book about Chris McCandless, the young man who gave away his law school fund and deserted his family to go live on the road, then finally to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness.

Pohlad says at first they planned to film the whole thing in Utah, but Penn convinced them the story had to be told on a grander scale. The crew eventually shot at 34 different locations all around the US including the climactic scenes in Alaska.

He says he likes the way the story is open to interpretation. In the film McCandless can be seen as a young man on a quest for freedom or to find himself, or he could also be seen as crazy to the point of self destruction.

Intriguingly as Pohlad was working on that project, his "Brokeback Mountain" collaborator Ang Lee was working on "Lust Caution" which is an espionage movie set in WWII Shanghai. Pohlad says that when he read the script it seemed like a period piece that read like a Hitchcock style suspense film. Lee's long-time collaborator screenwriter James Schamus asked Pohlad if he was interested in joining the project, and Pohlad sad yes, based on the good experience he had on "Brokeback Mountain."

However as filming began Lee decided that it was important to the story that the sexual encounters between the two main characters become more graphic. Pohlad says that it was clear from the very first cut that the film would be NC-17.

At one time that would be considered a kiss of death for a movie, and Pohlad said they have looked very closely at the numbers as to whether it makes financial sense to release such a film.

"But there are also times when you simply have to believe in what you are doing on a different level as well artistically and in this case we did, and we just bought off on it," he says. "And its a bit like rolling the dice but at the end of the day it's a great piece of art, it's a great piece of film-making. If it doesn't work commercially hopefully it won't hurt too bad."

Pohlad says there is also the long view to be taken in terms of what it means to cinema.

Pohlad says that there are people within the film business who are welcoming "Lust Caution" as an NC-17 for the reason that it may remove what he calls the stigma which has been associated with the rating in the past.

"It challenges that system a little bit and it challenges people's perception of that system and that rating." he says.

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