‘Megalopolis’ Director Francis Ford Coppola Slams Studio System at Cannes: ‘The Studios Are in Great Debt’

The filmmaker and his cast also defended Coppola’s grand vision and touched on Donald Trump during the divisive film’s press conference

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Francis Ford Coppola and Adam Driver at the Cannes Film Festival press conference for "Megalopolis" (Getty Images)

As legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola seeks distribution for his self-financed $120 million epic “Megalopolis” at the Cannes Film Festival, he offered a blunt assessment of the traditional studio system during a press conference on Friday.

“I fear that the film industry has become more of a matter of people being hired to meet their debt obligations because the studios are in great, great debt,” Coppola said alongside his cast for the movie he’s wanted to make for decades. “The job is not so much to make good movies, the job is to make sure that they pay their debt obligations. Obviously, new companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, they have plenty of money. So, it might be that the studios we knew for so long are not to be here in the future anymore.”

“Megalopolis” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to a 10-minute standing ovation on Thursday night but faced boos and tepid applause at the concurrent press screening. Early reviews have been decidedly mixed.

The film is filled with references to the fall of Rome as it relates to our current state of politics. Though the film is a reflection of how empires have fallen in the past, it’s ultimately a passion project for writer and director Coppola and has yet to secure domestic distribution. Coppola insists he’s always been a maverick when it comes to financing his own projects, but he’s nervous about the state of movie distribution now and in the future. 

The Oscar-winning “Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” filmmaker was on hand to answer questions alongside some of his well-known cast, including sister Talia Shire, Aubrey Plaza, longtime collaborator Laurence Fishburne, Jon Voight, Nathalie Emmanuel and star Adam Driver.

Much of the discussion focused squarely on the actors’ love for their director and his vision for what’s ultimately become a water cooler moment for festival-goers this year. The film’s initial reactions have been divided on all fronts, but that didn’t stop Coppola’s actors from making sure their opinions were known about the film and their director.

Giancarlo Esposito said he had a moment of clarity while watching the film at Cannes, “As I walked myself through the movie in my dreams last night … Film is supposed to inspire us. It is also supported intellectually and also emotionally. Francis allowed us to be free but then gave us a directive.” He continued, “I’m still thinking about it. It is supposed to inspire us to a new way of thinking, and in the end, that inspiration is supposed to allow us to have hope for our world.” He motioned to Coppola and defiantly exclaimed, “And believe me, I do because of you!”

Adam Driver, who plays futuristic architect Cesar Catilina noted, “I don’t think there will be something that imaginative on that scale. I do think it’s a wonderful kind of thing that will be dissected. I’ve seen it a lot of times, and last night, it really moved me. I saw it in a different way than I had before. I think it’ll just get richer and richer.”

Coppola said he was “filled with a combination of relief and joy” when he finally unveiled his decades-in-the-works passion project to audiences. “It’s not an emotion I can give you in a word. After all these years of having an idea and building it and abandoning it and then saying, ‘No, I shouldn’t abandon it.’ But it was a beautiful feeling.”

The conversation took a political turn, keeping in theme with the film’s premise. Coppola pointed to the movie’s references to Rome then made a connection to modern day America.

“Years ago, I said I wanted to do a Roman epic but set in modern America. I had no idea that the politics of today would make that so relevant. What’s happening in America, in our republic and our democracy is exactly how Rome lost their republic thousands of years ago. So it’s real.” He gave his opinion on how art imitates life, adding, “The role of the artist is to illuminate contemporary life and to shine light on it.”

Leaning left in his own politics, Francis Ford Coppola dodged some questions regarding American political affairs, though he continued his admiration for his cast of actors, some of whom come from the other side of the political spectrum.

When asked about the future of America and men like Donald Trump being in charge, Coppola was quick to say, “Men like Donald Trump aren’t in charge at the moment. There is a trend happening towards the more neo-right and fascist tradition. Anyone who was alive during World War II saw the horrors that took place and we don’t want to repeat that.” 

Deflecting a bit, he asked Jon Voight to step in, knowing that the actor is a political conservative. “I think that your longing to contribute to that is created in this film. I believe in this film and Francis’ vision, that says human beings are capable of solving every problem we get ourselves into. We can do it. That’s what the last moments in the film with Adam beautifully saying ‘We can do it.’ We must bond together, we must help each other. We must listen to each other. We must take this on and make a better world because we’ve been through a lot.”

Aubrey Plaza reiterated much of what the other actors had to say about Coppola, which ultimately became a love fest by the end of the press conference. “It was a dream come true because Francis really likes actors,” she said. 

Plaza portrays a villainous journalist in “Megalopolis” and said working with the iconic director was inspiring. “My takeaway was that he likes to inspire actors, and he’s very playful, and he trusts the people that he’s cast,” she said. “The script for me was very dreamlike, and I felt that the process really almost reflected that in a way. It was just really about the environment he created that made it possible.”

“Megalopolis” is currently seeking distribution.

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