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"But what about Jane Campion?" some have asked. "She's from New Zealand," I answer. "And Lina Wertmuller?" Why she's Italian.

Finally, the Academy has seen fit to nominate an American woman in the Best Director category. Who has received this coveted honor (along with nominations for Best Picture and Best Screenplay)?

Sofia Coppola.

The picture?

Lost in Translation.

Now here's the story of how she got there:

In a way, you could say that Sofia was baptized into the filmmaking business. Born in Manhattan on May 12th, 1971, her father, Francis Ford Coppola, was shooting The Godfather and needed an infant. Thus Sofia's film debut was as a baby boy in the christening scene toward the end of the film. She also had a bit part in Part II of the trilogy and claims that one of her earliest memories growing up was being on the chaotic set of Apocalypse Now. Could she be anything but a filmmaker?

In the 1980s, Sofia took small parts in many films, including the one of little sister to Kathleen Turner's starring role opposite Nicolas Cage (Sofia's cousin) in Peggy Sue Got Married. In 1989, Francis and his daughter collaborated on the "Life with Zoe" segment of New York Stories. Sofia earned title design, screenplay, and costume design credits, but critics didn't appreciate their effort to recreate the world of the classic Eloise tales.

In 1990, she designed the costumes for Spirit of '76, a zany comedy co-written by her brother, Roman. Later that year, Part III of the godfather trilogy was released. Francis had replaced Winona Ryder, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, with the teenage Sofia as Mary Corleone. Critics blasted the performance, and in 1991 the Razzie Awards named poor Sofia Worst Supporting Actress and Worst New Star.

Understandably, Sofia took a break from the Hollywood spotlight, enrolling in the California Institute of Arts where she studied photography, costume design, and film. After graduation, she created a comedy central series Hi-Octane, a news magazine show, but it only survived four episodes. She also worked on several music video projects, including a cameo in Madonna's "Deeper and Deeper."

Sofia then turned to shorts, editing and co-directing "Bed, Bath and Beyond" and writing and directing "Lick the Star." The latter received a certain amount of buzz after it was screened at film festivals and thus earned airings on both Bravo and the Independent Film Channel. Invigorated by this last success, Sofia turned her energies to adapting Jeffrey Eugenides' Putlitzer Prize winning novel The Virgin Suicides into a screenplay. The rights had already been secured by Muse Productions, but they preferred her version to the more overtly sexual and violent version already written. With production assistance from her father and a stellar cast, including Josh Hartnett, Kirsten Dunst, Kathleen Turner, and James Woods, Sofia directed the film in Toronto, Canada, and went on to premier it at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999. Critics applauded the subtle, dreamy delicacy of the picture, and Paramount Classics picked it up for distribution. That year she also married director Spike Jonze.

With her first feature film a success, Sofia looked around for material for her next screenplay. "I spent a bunch of time in Tokyo in my early and mid-twenties," she said, "doing work and different things. So I'd been there a bunch and thought I really want to do a movie here someday. I just love the way visually it looks and the mood. I've never been in another place where I really felt like it's another planet. And then you're jetlagged on top of it." Additionally, in the 1970s, her father and Kurosawa did a Suntory commercial, and these two factors became the seeds for Lost in Translation. "That's where the idea for the Suntory came from," she said. "They were both on camera in the seventies. I never saw it; I saw a picture, framed, of my dad and Kurosawa sitting there. I think it was at a point in Kurosawa's career where he didn't have money, so my dad was trying to be helpful."

To play the starring role of a has-been actor in town to film a whisky commercial, Sofia wanted none other than Bill Murray. Indeed, she said she wouldn't make the film if she couldn't cast him in the part. After months of phone calls, he finally agreed, showing up in Tokyo only a few days before shooting. Although he appeared reluctant to do the film and never rehearsed, he turned in what some critics have called the performance of a lifetime, winning the Golden Globe for best actor and receiving an Academy Award nomination. Sofia, too, turned in a stellar performance as writer and director. She won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and Best Screenplay and has been nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay Oscars. The film has also been nominated for Best Picture.

"I wanted to make the movie," she said, "to convey what I love about Tokyo and visiting the city. It's about moments in life that are great but don't last. They don't go on, but you always have the memories, and they have an effect on you. That's what I was thinking about."

Born in New York to Hollywood royalty, raised in northern California, Sofia has been soaked in the arts, taking a turn at photography, fashion design, music video, shorts, and feature films. Now she stands saturated, successful, as the first American woman ever nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director. Who knew a little independent film, opening at the Venice Film Festival, directed by a woman could end up with almost assured Oscar gold? At long last.

February 2004

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