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How Francis Ford Coppola movie ‘Apocalypse Now’ is linked to an actual war

At the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, Francis Ford Coppola said about his film Apocalypse Now: “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little, we went insane.”

Apocalypse Now is one of Coppola’s most brilliant creations and undoubtedly one of his best. Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s acclaimed 1902 novella, Heart Of Darkness, Coppola’s 1979 epic is one of the most ambitious projects of his career.

A visually stunning, thought-provoking and philosophical ride, Apocalypse Now was an extremely demanding film that took a toll on Coppola’s mental health and fortune as he dealt with unforeseen casualties, unprecedented conflicts and controversies and natural disasters; it took three years for the film to finally end production.

Set during the Vietnam war, this harrowing film, with its unforgettable setting and mystique imagery, is a deconstruction of the evils of colonialism, the inherent interference of Americans in geopolitical affairs and the overall moral degradation plaguing humanity.

Starring Martin Sheen as Captain Willard, the film chronicles his journey into the daunting forests to look for the elusive Colonel Kurtz, portrayed by Marlon Brando; driven to insanity and madness by the horrors of the war, Kurtz is now a maniac killer who is worshipped by the locals.

While the film essentially records the horrors of war, Apocalypse Now has a real-life connection to an actual ongoing war during the time. In the 1991 documentary film Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, came together with Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper to chronicle the gruelling filmmaking process, revealing various behind-the-scenes secrets.

Filmed predominantly in the Phillippines, a particular clip from the documentary reveals how the helicopters in the film belonged to the Phillippines and were used to fight rebels and insurgents.

Due to the “civil war in the south”, the narrator (Eleanor Coppola) says, “Every day the government sends different pilots who haven’t participated in the rehearsals, wrecking tens and thousands of dollars worth of shots.”

Since there were “rumours” about rebels being positioned just ten miles away from the shooting location, the Filipino commanders feared the safety of the cast and crew and remained stationed at the locations.

Coppola continues, “In the middle of a complicated shot, the helicopters [later revealed to be five in number] were called away to fight the rebels.” This led to a delay in the filming schedule.

Watch Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse to know more about Francis Ford Coppola’s daunting, obstacle-ridden quest to finish Apocalypse Now.