2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘He Dreams of Giants’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Terry Gilliam and directors Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton on the set of “He Dreams of Giants” (Photo by Jeremy Royce)

“He Dreams of Giants”

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 10, 2019.

For nearly 30 years, director Terry Gilliam tried to get a movie made based on the novel “Don Quixote,” but he experienced the kind of bad luck and setbacks that you might see in a movie. This documentary shows how difficult the journey was for Gilliam to make the adventure comedy “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” which had its world premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and finally had a U.S. release through Fathom Events in April 2019, in a select number of theaters for one night only. The movie is now available on home video, and can be streamed for free on Crackle. “He Dreams of Giants” directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe previously did another documentary—2002’s “Lost in La Mancha”—that covered the same topic, so “He Dreams of Giants” is really an update of that documentary.

Gilliam’s production problems for “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” included cast members (such as Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Ewan McGregor, John Hurt and Gilliam’s former “Monty Python” castmate Michael Palin) who dropped out of the film and moved on to other projects. (“He Dreams of Giants” shows early footage of Depp filming the movie in 2000.) The movie was also plagued by bad weather and other mishaps. And the biggest obstacle of all was the financing, which Gilliam lost several times and struggled to keep, even when the movie began filming. The documentary shows that even while making the movie during this final phase, Gilliam and other filmmakers on the project (including his producer daughter, Amy Gilliam) were bracing themselves for something to go wrong.

Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce were the actors who ended up being the two main stars of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” Driver played an ad executive who goes back and revisits a student film he made called “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” in which he had cast an actor (played by Pryce) as Don Quixote. The documentary shows Driver, Pryce and other cast members getting acquainted over table reads of the script. The documentary also has plenty of scenes of Gilliam directing the film and sometimes getting frustrated when things don’t go as planned. He acknowledges that having a quick temper is one of his flaws. For all the years that it took to get the film made, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” ended up being filmed in just 55 days.

Even though the cast changed over the years, some members of the crew stayed with the film during its entire turbulent journey, including costume designer Lena Mossum, cinematographer Nicola Pecorini and a few of the actors playing supporting roles as giants. The documentary shows Gilliam getting teary-eyed and emotional when Mossum shows how she kept all the original costumes preserved and intact for decades, and he’s elated when he finds out that Pryce fits into the Don Quixote costume. Early on in the documentary, Gilliam gives credit to the illustrations of Gustave Doré, who illustrated the 1868 edition of the “Don Quixote” book, as an inspiration for how he wanted his movie to look.

Much like a book, “He Dreams of Giants” is divided into chapters, with titles such as “Momentum,” “I Can’t Sleep,” “The Madness” and “The Will to Survive.” There’s some archival footage of Gilliam discussing the movie over the years in TV interviews. And there’s new, somewhat pretentious-looking footage of Gilliam looking thoughtful or a pacing around in completely white backdrop, as if to show he’s a “serious artist,” alone in his thoughts.

Even with all the artistic ambitions of “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” Gilliam is smart enough to know that the movie has limitations in box-office appeal, and he doesn’t have the clout he used to have in the ’80s, because his last several movies have all been flops. “The marketplace has no faith in this movie,” he says with a tinge of sadness. “I’m no longer an A-list director.” As for what people can learn from all the ups and downs he went through to get the movie made, Gilliam sums it up best when he says, “Life is hard. The idea that it should be fun—who the fuck invented that story?”