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Cannes Defends Selection of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Don Quixote’ Despite Film’s Legal Woes

UPDATED: Paulo Branco and Alfama issue response to Festival statement

The Cannes Film Festival has defended its decision to select Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” as this year’s closing movie despite the ongoing legal dispute over who owns the rights to the film. Producer Paulo Branco and his production company Alfama Films, which have taken Gilliam to court, are seeking to block the May 19 screening of the long-gestating, trouble-plagued movie.

“The Festival de Cannes’ mission is to choose works purely on artistic grounds and the selection must, above all, be with the agreement of the film’s director,” the festival’s organizers said Monday. “This is the case here. Past experience had made us aware of possible legal action and of the risks we were running, but as it happens, when we took our decision, there was no opposition to the screening of the film at the festival.”

Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” has been 20 years in the making. The World premiere Cannes screening was to coincide with a release of the film in France. The movie stars Adam Driver and Stellan Skarsgard and is one of the most troubled in cinema history, with on-set accidents, financial issues, and stop-start production. Principal photography was finally completed last year.

The organizers denied accusations that they had acted carelessly or “forced matters” in selecting the film and fired back at Branco. “Our entire profession knows that ‘forcing matters’ has always been Mr. Branco’s favorite method, and we should recall that he organized a press conference a few years ago where he denounced the Festival de Cannes because it had not kept a ‘promise to select’ one of his films,” said the statement from Cannes president Pierre Lescure and artistic director Thierry Fremaux.

“This was an accusation which didn’t go anywhere, because the festival does not make promises to select films,” the statement continued. “It either selects them or it does not.”

Branco and Alfama responded to the Festival’s statement later on Monday and said that previous court rulings have established their rights in this case. “They prevent any exploitation or display of the film without the agreement of its producer. The exploitation of the film is impossible in the absence of an operating visa that the CNC, for its part respectful of the law, cannot deliver,” a statement said.

It added: “The Cannes Film Festival also clearly forgets that without the producers, who take all the economic risks, neither the films nor the Festival would exist.”

In an increasingly bitter war of words the statement from Branco’s side claimed the “Cannes Film Festival decided to override the court decisions that had been brought to its attention” and said that “if this film exists today, it is thanks to the work and investments made by Alfama Films and Paulo Branco, when no one believed in this film anymore.”

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” was presented to the festival by Gilliam, sales company Kinology, and distributor Ocean. Cannes said it was informed of Branco’s decision to start legal action as that presentation took place last winter. A legal hearing is scheduled for next Monday. Lescure and Fremaux said the festival “calmly awaits” the court’s decision, but that they “stand squarely on the side of filmmakers and in particular on the side of Terry Gilliam.”

They added: “At a time when two filmmakers invited to take part in the Official Selection are under house arrest in their own countries, at a time when Wanuri Kahiu’s film ‘Rafiki,’ which is part of the Official Selection, has just been struck by censorship in Kenya, the country where it was produced, it is more important than ever to remember that artists need us to support them, not attack them. That has always been the tradition of the Festival de Cannes and so it will remain.”

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