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Spotlight on Francis Ford Coppola as ‘Megalopolis’ Premieres at Cannes 2024

Renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is set to debut his highly anticipated film “Megalopolis” at the Cannes Film Festival this Thursday, placing both his artistic reputation and personal fortune on the line. The premiere has been surrounded by whispers of production woes, evoking memories of past tumultuous projects by Coppola.

The 85-year-old director, famous for his cinematic masterpieces, hasn’t released a film in over a decade. With “Megalopolis,” Coppola has taken a significant financial risk, investing $120 million of his own funds into the project. This bold decision reflects a pattern in Coppola’s career where high stakes and courage converge, most notably reminiscent of his experiences with “Apocalypse Now.”

Forty-five years ago, Coppola found himself in a strikingly similar position with “Apocalypse Now.” The film’s notorious production hurdles in the Philippines had already cemented its legend, even as the initially planned release date of December 1977 came and went. Coppola himself injected approximately $16 million into the film’s $31 million budget, a significant personal financial risk.

“I was terrified,” Coppola recounted in a 2019 statement. “I was personally on the hook for the entire budget. At the time, interest rates were exorbitantly high, over 25%. With all the controversies and misleading articles speculating about a movie no one had seen, it seemed like I would never escape the financial peril I was in. I was young, with a family and no inherited wealth. I was scared stiff.”

As “Apocalypse Now” was nearing completion, Gilles Jacob, then-delegate general of Cannes, paid Coppola a visit. Jacob hoped to persuade Coppola to return to the festival, where his previous film “The Conversation” had won the Palme d’Or in 1974. In his memoir, “Citizen Cannes: The Man Behind the Cannes Film Festival,” Jacob describes finding Coppola overwhelmed by financial stresses and struggling with miles of film footage.

By the spring of 1979, Coppola had a rough cut of “Apocalypse Now” ready for a Los Angeles screening, reflecting a similar private preview he recently conducted for “Megalopolis.” When Jacob learned of the Los Angeles screening, he fervently worked to secure the film for that year’s Cannes lineup. The anticipation for “Apocalypse Now” was immense.

“’Apocalypse Now’ was already an event before it even premiered. It was to be the crowning glory of the festival,” Jacob wrote. He also noted that the Cannes setting, which he deemed more than a match for Coppola’s grandiose ambitions, played a critical role in convincing the director to bring his film to the festival.

Despite lingering doubts about the film’s readiness, Coppola agreed to premiere “Apocalypse Now” in competition as a “work in progress.” At the Cannes premiere, Coppola arrived with his daughter, Sofia, who was just eight years old, carried on his shoulders. Initial reactions to the film were tepid.

The International Herald Tribune reported, “‘Apocalypse Now,’ one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the decade, received only a polite response at Cannes on Saturday.” At the subsequent press conference, Coppola defended his work against criticisms, particularly regarding the film’s substantial budget.

“Why is it that I, the first to make a film about Vietnam, a film about morality, face so much criticism when you can spend just as much on a gorilla movie or some superhero?” Coppola lamented.

Despite the mixed initial reviews, “Apocalypse Now” became one of Cannes’ most illustrious premieres. The film shared the Palme d’Or with Volker Schlöndorff’s “The Tin Drum,” as the jury, led by French author Françoise Sagan, was divided between the two war-themed entries.

As “Megalopolis” gears up for its debut, the parallels between Coppola’s current endeavor and his “Apocalypse Now” experience are hard to ignore. The film will premiere in competition, raising expectations and curiosity akin to the director’s past work.

Following the 1978 Cannes closing ceremony, Jacob recalls a poignant encounter with Coppola at the Carlton Hotel. As Coppola was preparing to leave in a limousine, he momentarily stepped out, approached Jacob, and remarked with a cigar in hand, “I only received half a Palme d’Or.”

The world now waits with bated breath to see how “Megalopolis” will fare at Cannes 2024, where Coppola once again seeks to push the boundaries of cinema while risking everything.