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American Masters: A Letter To Elia

Airs Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 12 p.m. on KPBS TV

Martin Scorsese (L) with Elia Kazan

Credit: American Masters

Above: Martin Scorsese (L) with Elia Kazan

Elia Kazan’s name was brought front and center to the world again during the buzz surrounding the March 1999 Academy Awards. He was to receive an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, an honor that divided Hollywood.

Then 89 years old, Kazan was primarily remembered for his impressive directorial body of work in the 1950s — "On the Waterfront," "East of Eden," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Gentleman’s Agreement," "A Face in the Crowd" — but remained controversial.

To many, he was singularly and permanently emblematic of the sin of “naming names” before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. To others, his extraordinary work deserved recognition.

More About The Film

Read the transcript of a conversation with Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones on the making of "A Letter To Elia."

One of his strongest supporters — one of the men who stood tall with Kazan in front of that divided Hollywood audience in 1999 — was the filmmaker Martin Scorsese, the director of this documentary, a personal and poignant meditation on art and the creative impulse.

"A Letter To Elia" is composed of minimal elements: Scorsese on camera and off; snippets of Kazan interviews; readings from his writings; photos, posters and a wealth of film clips; and music. There is biography and autobiography — Kazan’s life, his sense of himself as an immigrant, as an outsider — and Scorsese’s early experiences seeing Kazan’s films for the first time — and being forever influenced.

This episode originally aired in 2010.

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Highlights from A Letter to Elia

Watch short excerpts featuring highlight's from Scorsese's documetary tribute to Elia Kazan, including Kazan's take on drama and Scorsese's thoughts on "Wild River," Kazan's smile, Kazan's transition from acting to directing, and his meeting with Kazan at New York University.

A Letter To Elia - Preview

Composed of clips, stills, readings from Kazan's autobiography and his speech on directing (read by Elias Koteas), a videotaped interview done late in Kazan's life, and Scorsese's commentary on and offscreen, A Letter to Elia takes a close look at the life of art and its creation - the work, the distractions, the inspirations, the complications, the intersections between art and experience.

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