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French director Jean-Jacques Annaud has made movies around the world. The one place he never thought he’d made a movie was China. The government there got upset about his film Seven Years in Tibet, and Annaud and star Brad Pitt were told they were not welcome in the country. So Annaud was quite surprised to receive a visit from Chinese producers asking him to adapt the best selling Chinese novel Wolf Totem into a film. Annaud shares why China changed its mind on him, what it takes to make a hit there, and what it was like working with lots of Mongolian wolves. He also remembers his friend and frequent collaborator James Horner.

Photo: Director Jean-Jacques Annaud on the set of Wolf Totem. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Producers:
Kaitlin Parker

Hollywood News Banter 6 MIN, 49 SEC

TV Guide magazine chief content officer Michael Schneider joins Kim Masters to discuss top entertainment news stories of the week.

  • With Telluride over and Toronto kicking off, awards season is officially under way. After Telluride, the movie to watch seems to be Black Mass, featuring a strong performance from an almost unrecognizable Johnny Depp.
  • Colbert is back! Stephen Colbert made his debut as the host of The Late Show on CBS. Ratings were strong the first night, but dipped on night two. The first couple of weeks will likely involve Colbert finding his legs as the new host.
  • Remember Zero Dark Thirty? Vice News did an extensive investigation and found that director Kathryn Bigelow and writer and producer Mark Boal gave gifts to members of the CIA. Hoping to get information for their film, they reportedly gave expensive jewelry, dinners and even a bottle of tequila to CIA agents.

Guests:
Michael Schneider, Indiewire / Variety (@Franklinavenue)

'Wolf Totem' 20 MIN, 22 SEC

Oscar-winning French director Jean-Jacques Annaud has made movies around the world -- from The Name of the Rose in Italy to Two Brothers in Cambodia.

One place he did not expect to work is China. His 1997 film Seven Years in Tibet, filmed mostly in Argentina, upset the Chinese government. The film was banned in China and both Annaud and star Brad Pitt were barred from entering the country.

No one then, was more surprised than Annaud to get a visit from Chinese producers in 2007 asking him to make a very Chinese movie.

They wanted Annaud to adapt the bestseller Wolf Totem, a semi-autobiographical novel written under the pseudonym Jiang Rong. The book follows a student from Beijing sent to live in Inner Mongolia during the 1967 Cultural Revolution. The novel is critical of Mao’s communist regime, especially the damage caused by urban settlers who upset the delicate balance in the region between humans and wolves.

The movie version would of course involve working with wolves, and Annaud had made movies with animals before. He had read the book and was up for the challenge but still, as he told us when he joined us in the studio, he wondered...had the Chinese really gotten over their very negative reaction to Seven Years in Tibet?

They promised they had. Annaud says Chinese producers are pragmatic people, and saw him as a person they knew could get the job done. He could also provide something of a neutral voice for working with very sensitive material.

Annaud is an immersive director, and ended up moving to China for several years, spending 165 days shooting in Inner Mongolia and then post-production in Beijing. And before they could even start shooting, they had to raise their own wolf pack.


Shaofeng Feng and one of his wolf co-stars in 'Wolf Totem'
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Annaud wanted to use real native wolves -- who don’t take direction too well -- so the production had to raise and train animals especially for the project. These are intimidating creatures, though they look quite different from the gray wolves of North America. Annaud says Mongolian wolves are the color of lions and they have the eyes of tigers. He bonded with the alpha male of the pack, but took extreme caution, as he knew that wolves can never truly be tame.

Wolf Totem was a hit in China -- it’s one of the top-ten films at the Chinese box office this year. It’s also China’s Oscar submission for best foreign-language film. Now, Wolf Totem opens in the US, where Annaud is happy to present American audiences with another option besides the typical Hollywood fare.

Guests:
Jean-Jacques Annaud, filmmaker (@jjannaud)

Wolf Totem

Xavier Castano

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