Are You Talkin' to Me?; Best Known for His Depiction of Gangster Life, Director Martin Scorsese Tells the Record Why Making Movies Is a Religious Experience

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Martin Scorsese, the best Hollywood director never to win an Academy Award, has built his reputation on films about gangsters, sex and violence.

So what's the brains behind Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Cape Fear, GoodFellas, Raging Bull and Casino doing making a movie about the serene, peace- loving Dalai Lama?

This is a story with no expletives, virtually no violence and none of the fast- talking, street-wise action that's been Scorsese's trademark.

Even he was mildly astonished when Melissa Matheson, writer of ET and wife of Harrison Ford, suggested he make Kundun, which takes its title from the Dalai Lama's formal name.

When we met in London, Scorsese told me: "I immediately asked Melissa if she was sure the Dalai Lama understood the type of pictures I normally make.

"I don't think he had seen Mean Streets or GoodFellas. That didn't matter. Once I met the Dalai Lama, I realised I had to make this movie."

Yet again native New Yorker Scorsese has stirred up a hornet's nest with his dollars 28million movie.

China, depicted on screen as the vicious invader forcing the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet, reacted angrily to the film.

And the Chinese fury could have a costly backlash on Disney - who bankrolled Kundun - because of their ambitions to have a Chinese version of one of their theme parks.

But controversy is nothing new to the 55-year-old movie-maker, who once trained for the priesthood. His Last Temptation Of Christ was attacked by religious groups because the film featured a dream sequence in which Christ and Mary Magdalene had sex.

Scorsese makes no apologies, though he concedes it isn't easy to get some movies off the ground.

He said: "You have to try and make films as meaningful as possible to yourself.

"I don't know how much longer I can do it, though. I don't know if I can combine what I'm interested in with what Hollywood needs."

Filming Kundun was a major headache. For obvious reasons, Scorsese was never going to be able to shoot the story in Tibet.

Plans to use India, where the exiled Tibetan community live, with the backdrop of the Himalayas, also fell through.

But Scorsese, snubbed continually at the Oscars despite his incredible body of work, was undeterred.

He said: "There were problems. One person would tell us we were definitely going to get our permit to film. …