Terry Gilliam, 'Lost in La Mancha'

Documentary Captures Filmmaker's Aborted Take on 'Don Quixote'

Listen: Listen to an extended conversation between NPR's Laura Sydell and Terry Gilliam, Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton (42 mins.)

Terry Gilliam (center) with "Lost in La Mancha" co-directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton

Terry Gilliam (center) with Lost in La Mancha co-directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton during happier times in pre-production. Quixote Films Limited hide caption

itoggle caption Quixote Films Limited
Gilliam, left, and actor Johnny Depp on location in Spain.

Gilliam, left, and actor Johnny Depp on location in Spain. Quixote Films Limited hide caption

itoggle caption Quixote Films Limited

Former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam is probably best known for his fantastical films, such as Brazil and Twelve Monkeys. He has a reputation for creating outrageous scenes — and also for being obsessed with the smallest of details, and often going over budget to complete a film.

Now Gilliam himself is the subject of a film — Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about his disastrous attempt to bring the famed novel Don Quixote de la Mancha to the screen. Gilliam gave unfettered access to filmmakers Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton to record the missteps and seeming acts of God that brought the production to a halt.

Most people don't want to bring a lot of attention to their failures. But as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, not everyone has Gilliam's sense of humor — he allowed Pepe and Fulton to keep shooting, even when things moved from bad to worse.

"You don't think that a film of this size could in anyway be brought to its knees," Pepe told Sydell. "It was only when that idea started to creep into our minds a lot more that we felt that there was something, you know, slightly exploitative about what we were doing."

Despite torrential storms and distractions like jet fighter planes roaring overhead, Gilliam persisted in pushing the crew to continue. Gilliam says he couldn't stop, because he couldn't afford a delay in the shooting schedule.

"Once you've started on a film and you've got hundreds of people out there in Spain... you have to maintain the belief that it's going to get done," Gilliam says. "You've gotta keep people believing."

Gilliam found inspiration in the story of Quixote himself — an aging madman, inspired to bring back the glory days of chivalry and knighthood, who ignores the reality of his situation.

"If you're going to approach Quixote you've got to understand the irony, the humor, the madness of the whole thing. So when all of those things become reality, there's no good complaining. It's there. You chose that subject matter.

"Clearly, at a certain point I knew the whole thing was cursed and that there was a God. That's what was interesting about it. It was an epiphany. To realize there actually was a God — and he hated me."

Lost in La Mancha opens Jan. 31 in New York City and Los Angeles, and will appear gradually in theaters across the United States in February.

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