Day 6

Terry Gilliam's bid to make a Don Quixote film is now a quixotic quest in its own right

Earlier this month, famed director and former Monty Python cast member Terry Gilliam began shooting "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." It's Gilliam's eighth try at making the film. Documentary makers Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe had their cameras rolling when the movie fell apart in 2000, and they're pulling for Gilliam to see the project through this time.
Gilliam dubbed Rochefort "the perfect Quixote", but when Rochefort suffered a double herniated disc he was unable to continue filming. (François Duhamel/Quixote Films Ltd 2002)

It's been 18 years since Terry Gilliam launched his first attempt at making the movie The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Since then, he's tried again and again to make the movie happen, to no avail. Until now.

This month, cameras started rolling once again, with the film's premiere now slated for 2018.

But if Gilliam's track record on the project offers any indication of how things will go this time around, his film crew should expect the unexpected.

Unforeseen obstacles have plagued the film and hindered its progress ever since Gilliam first started shooting in 2000.

The film's current budget, estimated at around $18 million, is roughly half of what it was in 2000. (Quixote Films Ltd 2002)

During Gilliam's first production attempt, NATO aircraft target practices began nearby, making it impossible to record dialogue. Then, a storm hit the set which caused flash flooding. Soon after, Jean Rochefort had to abandon his role as Don Quixote when he suffered a serious back injury.

This was all within the first six days of shooting.

While Gilliam and his crew were struggling to work through all those snags, filmmakers Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe were also on set to work on their own film, an independently-financed feature documentary about Gilliam and the making of his movie.

Little did they know that their documentary would come out more than a decade before Gilliam's own project ever saw the sun.

"Lost in La Mancha"

When The Man Who Killed Don Quixote started hitting roadblocks, Fulton and Pepe say were the last to lose hope.

"We had a very romanticized view of fiction filmmaking," Pepe tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"You never think that a major motion picture with a budget of $32 million could possibly fall to its knees. We were the eternal optimists. We were the ones who were thinking 'Oh, they'll recover from this."

But eventually the duo had to come to terms with the film's demise.

"We had people who had put $400,000 into our documentary," Fulton recalls. "You don't immediately, when you're in the field, think 'Oh, well that's going to make an amazing story.' We thought this was the end of our movie as well."

When faced with the possibility of their film deal going sour, the two directors ultimately decided to make lemonade instead.

Their documentary chronicles each of the many complications Gilliam and his film faced during that first production attempt. They titled it Lost in La Mancha.

Fulton (left) and Lou (right) on set of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote". (François Duhamel/Quixote Films Ltd 2002)


The impossible task 

For some filmmakers, the events of that first week of filming in 2000 would have been more than enough reason to walk away from the project altogether. But not for Gilliam.

"We're talking about Terry Gilliam, and we're talking about an artist," Pepe says. "I think it's actually part of the artistic spirit to continue trying to conquer something like this."

"I remember him saying, 'If it wasn't difficult I wouldn't want to do it.' I think we're talking about a filmmaker and artist who is drawn to the idea of the impossible task."

Gilliam's long track record of things going awry on set eventually earned him the industry nickname of "Captain Chaos." But Fulton says this reputation doesn't speak to his ability as a director.  

"He's ultimately a really responsible filmmaker. He knows what he's doing. It's a metaphorical convenience to think of him as a quixotical character in some ways," he explains.

Gilliam instructs Johnny Depp, who was playing the lead character, Toby Grisoni. (François Duhamel/Quixote Films Ltd 2002)

Pepe adds that the problems Gilliam has faced are unavoidable and no fault of his own.

"I think the same acts of God would have crippled any director's production," he says.

Fulton and Pepe also documented the pre-production process and the film's dismantling. All told, they collected footage for three months. The result was an hour-and-a-half-long look inside the world of "Captain Chaos" and the movie that came apart at the seams.

He has a very infectious sensibility that inspires the people who work with him.- Lou Pepe , co-director of "Lost in La Mancha "

Despite facing setback after setback, Pepe says Gilliam always remained eager.

"He has a very infectious sensibility that inspires the people who work with him."

This time, the makers of Lost in La Mancha say they're optimistic that the film will finally reach the finish line.

"Gilliam himself says it's a tumour that needs to be removed from his brain," Fulton jokes.

"The one thing I know is that he won't give up," Pepe says. "I'm sure there will be lots of obstacles, but one can only hope that he'll finally get to make the film and get it off of his chest."

Since Fulton and Pepe met Gilliam in 1995, they've stayed in contact and have even discussed a followup to "Lost in La Mancha". (Quixote Films Ltd 2002)

To hear Brent Bambury's conversation with Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.