Hidden Gems: Lost in La Mancha

By Kim Hollis

November 30, 2004

Anyone seen a windmill?

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As movie-going fans, we take for granted the magic, toil, determination and even luck that are involved in the creation of film art. Any production hangs by the most tenuous of threads on the brink of disaster – anything from weather to illness to simple creative differences can suddenly cause a project to expire. Lost in La Mancha does a marvelous job of documenting the elements that go into the making of a movie, and ultimately, shows us exactly how things can go terribly awry.

Lost in La Mancha is a non-fiction film that details the making of director Terry Gilliam’s dream project – the long-in-development adaptation of Cervantes’ classic story, Don Quixote. Thanks to a (probably rightly earned) reputation for having his productions balloon out of control, Gilliam had difficulty securing financing to even get started on the film, and in fact left the project on the backburner for some time before finally deciding that the time was right to return to it.

All of the director’s ducks were in a row. He had obtained the money he needed to create his vision from a variety of sources, he had the ideal location scouted, and he had cast the perfect crew, including one Johnny Depp as Sancho Panza. Everything seemed to be in order for Gilliam to finally launch the project he’d been dying to do for so long.

But then, things went quickly and terribly wrong.

One of the major problems Gilliam and his crew faced was the illness of one of its primary stars. French character star, Jean Rochefort, seemed to embody the character of Don Quixote and was a natural for the role. As his sickness carried on and he degenerated, the doctors were somewhat baffled as to the cause of his ailments. All they could say is that the actor simply could not perform.

Still, Gilliam carried on.

Matters rapidly became worse, though. The seemingly ideal filming location turned into a nightmare spot. The weather was horrid, and a number of the sets were destroyed by high winds from both regular storms and sandstorms. When all of the setbacks were added together, it was simply too much. The insurance company couldn’t in good faith let the production continue.

Although Lost in La Mancha is primarily a documentary about what can happen when filming goes wrong, it is also a fascinating examination of the actual movie-making process itself. We see elements as simple as meetings of crew, creation of set design and even costuming. It doesn’t sound as though it would be particularly exciting, but somehow, there’s a sense of being there and following along as the creative process is taking place.

Some day, I’d like to think that Gilliam will be able to finally achieve the dream of adapting the story of the man from La Mancha. Until then, though, the documentary itself is a thoroughly Quixotic example of how tilting at windmills doesn’t always have ideal results.



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