Directors Keith Fulton and Luis Pepe never intended to shoot a conventional “making of” doc about Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.” They wanted to expose the nuts and bolts of the creative process.

But they got more than they bargained for when the sudden illness of lead actor Jean Rochefort caused the $32 million production to collapse six days into principal photography. That triggered the biggest insurance claim — $15 million — in European cinema history.

Their little doc wobbled for a moment, too — one backer, Canal Plus, pulled out instantly. But with the encouragement of Gilliam himself, the production carried on, shooting the chaos and confusion that ensued.

The result is “Lost in La Mancha: the Un-making of Don Quixote,” which will have its world premiere Feb. 11 at the Berlin Film Festival, and has been picked up by IFC for North and South America.

It’s a fly-on-the-wall account of an unfolding cinematic disaster, from the start of pre-production in the summer of 2000, through to the cameras rolling in September, and then the month of uncertainty after Rochefort fell ill with a severe back injury.

The flash flood on the second day of shooting in southern Spain, which swept away the entire set, is captured in all its glory.

“You watch the camera equipment floating away on a river which suddenly appears in the middle of a desert,” says producer Lucy Darwin.

The film includes five minutes of “Quixote” rushes, plus camera tests for the actors and specially commissioned animations of Gilliam’s storyboards, voiced by the director himself and his co-writer, Tony Grisoni. There’s also footage from Orson Welles’ legendary “lost” Quixote film. Jeff Bridges narrates.

It took Gilliam 10 years to get his “Quixote” up and running, which lent an epic dimension to the disaster. But he hasn’t given up on the dream. He’s in talks with the insurance company that now owns the project and fully intends to get “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” going again after he completes his next film, “Good Omens.”

‘Dark’ fantasies for sale

Any studio seeking the next “Lord of the Rings” should perhaps look no further than “His Dark Materials,” an extraordinary trilogy of novels by Philip Pullman.

The thinking child’s fantasy book writer, the 55-year-old Pullman made Brit-lit history last week when “The Amber Spyglass,” the final part of the trilogy, became the first children’s novel ever to be named the Whitbread Book of the Year, one of the U.K.’s most prestigious (and richest) literary prizes.

An agnostic riff on Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” “His Dark Materials” has an imaginative and metaphysical complexity that knocks Harry Potter into a cocked hat. Pullman’s child protagonists, Will and Lyra, are the new Adam and Eve, rebelling against Earth’s creator and the evil Church to establish a republic of Heaven.

The trilogy has sold 1.3 million copies through Scholastic in the U.K., and million in the U.S. through Random House.

The Royal National Theater is in advanced negotiations for a stage version, three plays over three nights, which Nicholas Hytner will direct in 2004.

Film rights were optioned six years ago by Scholastic’s own Gotham-based production banner, best known for making “An Indian in the Cupboard.” It has been waiting until Pullman finished the series before pushing them into active development.

Deborah Forte, Scholastic’s exec VP in charge of film and TV, is now in talks with financiers and filmmakers, including Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises, about partnering on a bigscreen version. Pullman was offered the chance to pen the adaptation, but declined.

“We would like to move forward quickly now,” Forte says. “We have been ready to go for over a year, but we have to put together the right team. A filmmaker must have some courage and vision to attack this material.”

Now there’s a challenge.

On with the wind

Pathe is boldly releasing Peter Hewitt’s “Thunderpants,” its comedy about a boy with a special talent for breaking wind, on May 16 in the U.K., as counter-programming to “Star Wars: Episode 2 — Attack of the Clones.” The tagline for the Pathe campaign? “May the farts be with you.”

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