Roland Joffé (born 17 November 1945) is an English-French film director who is known for his Oscar nominated movies, The Killing Fields and The Mission. He began his career in television. His early television credits included episodes of Coronation Street and an adaptation of The Stars Look Down for Granada. He gained a reputation for hard-hitting political stories with the series Bill Brand and factual dramas for Play for Today.
Joffé was educated at two independent schools: the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in London, and Carmel College in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, which was Europe’s only Jewish boarding school, until it closed in 1997. He completed his formal education at the University of Manchester.
After university, Joffé joined Granada Television as a trainee director in 1973, where he directed episodes of the TV series Coronation Street, Sam, The Stars Look Down, Crown Court, Bill Brand, and Headmaster.
In 1977, producer Tony Garnett was commissioned by the BBC to direct the play The Spongers within BBCs Play for Today series. He informed the BBC drama department that he wanted to hire Roland Joffé as director, but was told that Joffé did not possess BBC clearance and was regarded a “security risk.” The reason was that Joffé had attended some Workers’ Revolutionary Party meetings in the early 1970s, although he never became a party member. He explained around 1988: “I was very interested in politics at that time. But I was interested in what all the political parties were doing, not just the WRP, and I was never actively involved.” Only after Garnett threatened he would “go public,” was the veto on Joffé’s appointment withdrawn. The Spongers won the prestigious Prix Italia award.
Later in 1977, Joffé also directed an episode in BBC’s Second City Firsts, and in 1978 he directed two more plays for Play for Today: The Legion Hall Bombing and United Kingdom. In 1979, he directed the TV play No, Mama, No by Verity Bargate for the ITV Playhouse series, and in 1980 he made a version of 17th century dramatist John Ford’s play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore as a TV film for the BBC.
Roland Joffé’s first two feature films (The Killing Fields, 1984, and The Mission, 1986) each garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. Joffé worked closely with producer David Puttnam on each film. The Killing Fields detailed the friendship of two men, an American journalist for The New York Times, and his translator, a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in Communist Cambodia. It won three Academy Awards (for Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing) and was nominated for four more (including Best Picture and Best Director). The Mission was a story of conflict between Jesuit missionaries in South America, who were trying to convert the Guaraní Indians, and the Portuguese and Spanish colonisers, who wanted to enslave the natives. In an interview with Thomas Bird, Joffé says of The Mission, “The Indians are innocent. The film is about what happens in the world… What that innocence brings out in us. You would sit in a cinema in New York, or in Tokyo, or Paris, and for that point of time you would be joined with your companions on this planet. You would come out with a real sense of a network.” The film won the Palme d’Or and Technical Grand Jury Prize at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. It achieved six Academy Awards nominations—including for Best Picture, Best Director, and Ennio Morricone’s acclaimed Best Original Score—and won one, for Best Cinematography.
In 1993, he produced and directed a big budget adaptation of the video game Super Mario Bros and in 1995, an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. His 2007 horror film, Captivity drew controversy with its advertising billboards.
His latest release, There Be Dragons, garnered press attention as it dealt with the Catholic organisation Opus Dei. A movie about faith and forgiveness, There Be Dragons is a project that Joffé says has a message he’s proud to say on film. In an interview with CBN.com, he stated, “I have a very deep emotional investment in this film. I feel that I really want to stand behind what it says to us as human beings.”
Joffé is currently in post-production of the Anglo-Indian historical epic romance time travel adventure film, Singularity.