I haven’t seen Megalopolis, the new, four-decades-in-the-making film by Francis Ford Coppola, but I don’t have to know whether it’s good, bad, or, like most brave new works, somewhere in between, to be embarrassed for Hollywood.

Because even though Coppola spent more than $100 million of his own money to make the movie, money he raised by selling a major stake in his winery, and even though the movie stars Adam Driver, Nathalie Emmanuel, Dustin Hoffman, Aubrey Plaza, Shia LaBeouf, Laurence Fishburne, Jon Voight, Jason Schwartzman, Giancarlo Esposito, and Talia Shire, it has yet to find a domestic distributor.

Coppola himself, meanwhile, is characteristically candid and understandably frustrated. “You’d think, Why would anyone want not to root for Megalopolis? An accepted filmmaker using their own money to fund an ambitious movie. Well, there are plenty of interests who would,” he says.

If such a movie were to succeed, the studios would be “in an embarrassing and perhaps dangerous situation,” Coppola says, “because then other directors will say, ‘Look, he didn’t follow your rules and was successful, so why can’t I?’ No, better if they can say, ‘Look what Coppola did: successful, and yet going off and doing what he wanted, and he failed!’”

The entertainment press has printed a series of unattributed complaints about Coppola’s unconventional filmmaking style and mercurial behavior; one article included an allegation, also made anonymously, that he kissed some of the extras. (A co-producer has said Coppola kissed them on the cheek.)

In Coppola’s view, the film’s naysayers cheat. “If you look at each and every mixed or negative notice,” he says, “it’s always something heard from an unknown source. I really feel it’s unpardonable to attack a movie because it doesn’t play by Hollywood’s current rules, by quoting unnamed sources who probably weren’t at the screening and may not exist.”

I am not naïve. It is easy enough to understand why distributors aren’t touching this parable about clashing visions for the future of humanity; they don’t think it will make the money it will cost to sell it to the public. That is and must be their prerogative as executives. But Coppola is not just another filmmaker. He is our father. Who are we if we don’t honor him? Don’t kid yourself about D.E.I. initiatives. If we pay no respect to our giants, what, if anything, does Hollywood stand for?

“It’s a cold, meaningless business,” Coppola says. A business that has forsaken its values, slipping ever further into decadence. A business, in other words, that needs a new future. Is it any wonder that this is precisely what Coppola’s experimental, idea-driven epic is about?

If Megalopolis were to succeed, the studios would be “in an embarrassing and perhaps dangerous situation,” Coppola says, “because then other directors will say, ‘Look, he didn’t follow your rules and was successful, so why can’t I?’”

Megalopolis—which pits an idealistic city-builder against a craven politician in the not too distant future—is invariably referred to as a “passion project,” which Coppola rightly regards as pejorative. In latter-day Hollywood, passion is fearfully close to artistry. “I’ve never made a film that wasn’t a passion project,” he says. “Who wants to see a film that someone made without passion, or even a meal that the chef had not prepared passionately? As for the genre they want to force my film into, sci-fi: no, Megalopolis is a fable of future history.”

I beseech you, executives, to think of your future history. Consider the lives and legacies of David O. Selznick and Mike Todd and Alan Ladd Jr. and Roger Corman, showmen who beat the odds and found a way to find the audience. Instead of throwing up their hands at a distribution challenge, they rolled up their sleeves and got creative. That is their legacy. What will yours be?

D. B. Sweeney, Grace VanderWaal, Giancarlo Esposito, Aubrey Plaza, Francis Ford Coppola, Romy Croquet, Adam Driver, Kathryn Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, and Chloe Fineman at the premiere of Megalopolis, earlier this week, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Be the studio that stood with Coppola. You will reap that greatest of intangible assets: goodwill. It does not guarantee box office—nothing does, after all—but it will pay dividends when the next visionary director is shopping around for a filmmaker-friendly environment.

Surely there is a way forward. Recall that Paramount and Fox split the check on Titanic, which seemed like a risky bet at the time. When Bob Fosse ran over budget on All That Jazz, Daniel Melnick of Columbia and Ladd of Fox reportedly met at the Beverly Hills Hotel and flipped a coin to see who would take domestic and who would take international.

I know the economics of the business have changed since then, when filmmakers were at the center of American culture, but if Hollywood retains any sense of community, cooperation is still possible; I’ve read that Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox have come together to offer streaming sports.

What about Tom Cruise, who goes back with Coppola to The Outsiders? Such is Cruise’s active and ongoing dedication to the theatrical experience, on which the future of the art form hangs, that he even helped to promote Barbenheimer—someone else’s movies. Maybe he can be called on again.

“I’ve never made a film that wasn’t a passion project. Who wants to see a film that someone made without passion, or even a meal that the chef had not prepared passionately?”

While we’re at it, why not enlist De Niro, Pacino, Hoffman, Tarantino, Scorsese, Spielberg, Clooney, Streep? George Lucas, are you out there? Can you make an appearance, if only by hologram, and help us defeat the empire: publicity and advertising costs? What about members of the new generation, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, or anyone else ready to pitch in?

The early reviews are wildly divergent—perhaps thrillingly so. The Times of London called it “a head-wrecking abomination,” while Deadline judged it “a true modern masterwork.” But if you need a rallying cry, consider this, from Steven Soderbergh, who calls Megalopolis “one of the most sustained acts of pure imagination I’ve ever seen.... Nobody has ever seen anything like it.”

Unless someone in Hollywood steps up, though, nobody—other than the lucky few who attended a friends-and-family screening in Los Angeles, and the attendees at Cannes, where it was shown earlier this week, and where it got a seven-minute ovation—ever will. Not on the big screen, where Coppola’s work belongs.

Whatever happens, ultimately, Coppola wins. Because long after this crop of interchangeable executives has come and gone, people will still be watching his movies—every one of them a passion project.

“Many, many artists, writers, and philosophers were paupers all their lives, died thinking themselves failures,” he says. “But, Sam, not me.”

Thank you, Francis, for keeping Utopia on the map.

Sam Wasson is a Writer at Large at AIR MAIL and the author of several books about Hollywood, including The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story, as well as a co-author of Hollywood: The Oral History