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Terry Gilliam's The Man Who Killed Don Quixote loses U.S. distributor ahead of Cannes premiere

Contributed by
May 9, 2018

It took Terry Gilliam 20 years to finally make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and now the film has hit another major setback ahead of its planned world premiere.

Amazon Studios, which signed a deal with Gilliam to serve as U.S. distributor for the film and co-finance it all the way back in 2015, is set to pull out of its distribution amid a legal battle surrounding the rights to Quixote. Multiple trade outlets have confirmed Amazon's decision to withdraw from distributing the film, though the company itself has not yet released a formal announcement.

At the heart of the legal dispute over the film is Paulo Branco, a producer whose Alfama Films company signed on to help finance the film in 2016. Branco ultimately left the production after a falling out with Gilliam, and while Gilliam's attorney claims Branco failed to come up with the funds he promised to raise to finish the film, Branco still claims he has the rights to the film, and filed an injunction with a Paris court to stop it from screening at Cannes. After a hearing on Monday the court has apparently backed Gilliam, and Cannes organizers announced Wednesday that they will respect the court's decision and move ahead with film's premiere.

As of this writing, Amazon's decision to withdraw from distributing the film still holds. Variety cites the ouster of Amazon entertainment head Roy Price — who made the Quixote deal but has since left the company due to a sexual harassment scandal — as another contributing factor in the decision, as Amazon re-evaluates its slate of films. 

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is at the center of one of the most famous development hell sagas of all time. Gilliam initially began making the film in 1998 with Jean Rochefort set to play Don Quixote, but a series of mishaps — including Rochefort's illness, insurance problems, and financing setbacks — ultimately put the film on hold. The production's troubles were famously chronicled in the 2002 documentary Lost in La Mancha, but Gilliam didn't give up. In the intervening years Gilliam kept trying to get the film back off the ground with everyone from Robert Duvall to Michael Palin to the late John Hurt attached to star, but each time some financial difficulty or other stood in the way.

Now the film is complete, with Jonathan Pryce and Adam Driver co-starring, and while it is now cleared to screen at Cannes, its North American distribution is once again uncertain. The news is further complicated by reports that Gilliam suffered a minor stroke this week and was briefly hospitalized, but his representatives are downplaying that, announcing only that “we can confirm that Terry Gilliam is currently at home preparing for his trip to Cannes next week in support of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”

It has been a very, very long road for Gilliam and this film, and with Amazon poised to pull its distribution, it's become clear that the road's still not quite over. Gilliam may yet have to fight for his film a little longer, but for now we're just hoping he makes it to Cannes healthy and happy enough to watch his labor of love two decades in the making finally screen at the most prestigious film festival in the world.