UPDATE, writethru with follow-up response from Paulo Branco: As Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote faces yet another hurdle on its way to the screen, the Cannes Film Festival has pledged itself firmly on the side of the filmmaker. Releasing a statement to that effect, Cannes today addressed a legal challenge levied last week by Paulo Branco and his Alfama Films Productions that seeks to have the movie pulled from its official May 19 closing-night slot as part of a rights dispute.

Cannes chiefs Pierre Lescure and Thierry Fremaux said they will respect the court’s decision at a hearing May 7 — the day before the festival begins. They also offered a retort to Branco, saying he “has shown his true colors once and for all during this episode” and “has threatened us, via his lawyer, with a ‘humiliating defeat.’ ”

But, they say, “Defeat would be to succumb to threats… 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.”

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been termed one of the most cursed projects in history. It’s also been the subject of a wrangle between Branco and Gilliam, who signed a contract in August 2016 giving the producer the rights. But the budget did not materialize and Gilliam found new backers who got the project on track after the director originally started work on it in 1989, and 17 years after shooting first began in 2000.

Both sides had lodged complaints. Last May, a French court ruled in favor of Branco but said he could not stop the film from shooting. Then earlier this month, an appeals court heard from the parties with the final decision to be delivered June 15.

Alfama said in a statement last Wednesday that it had obtained permission to seek a writ to stop Cannes from screening the movie. The court will rule Monday.

A few hours after Cannes released its statement, Branco fired off a missive to journalists. In it, he asserts his and Alfama’s “exclusive rights” to Don Quixote, noting that “the exploitation of the film is impossible in the absence of an operating visa” from French film body the CNC. It is Deadline’s understanding that this only pertains to commercial exhibition rather than a festival slot.

Branco and his attorneys say Cannes “decided to override the court decisions that had been brought to its attention” and calls it indecent for the festival to “compare the situation of Terry Gilliam, who refuses to respect judicial decisions in a state of law, to that of directors that are victim of repression and censorship in their countries.”

“The Cannes Film Festival is not above the law and the virulence and aggressiveness of (its) tone will not change anything. Paulo Branco does not use any method of intimidation by seizing justice to enforce his rights,” the statement said (see it in full below).

Lescure and Frémaux’s statement says that when Don Quixote was presented to the festival by Gilliam, sales company Kinology and French distributor Océan Films, “Mr Branco informed us of his legal action against the director, following the breakdown of relations between them after the film’s pre-production… Such legal disputes are not unusual. The Festival is regularly informed of them, but it is not in its remit to take a position on these sorts of matters. Therefore, after careful consideration and because it seemed possible the film would be released at the same time, we decided to feature this work in the Official Selection.”

At the time of the decision, say Lescure and Frémaux, “there was no opposition to the screening of the film at the Festival.”

They continue, “We therefore did not act carelessly or in any way ‘force matters’ as (attorney) Mr Juan Branco has said in the press. Our entire profession knows that ‘forcing matters’ has always been Mr Branco’s favorite method.”

Lescure and Frémaux say they “strongly affirm that we stand squarely on the side of filmmakers and in particular on the side of Terry Gilliam. We know how important this project, which has gone through so many trials and tribulations, is to him.”

Here’s Cannes’ full statement:

On April 25, Paulo Branco and his production company Alfama Films took legal action aimed at preventing the planned screening of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote on Saturday, May 19 at the closing event of the 2018 Festival de Cannes.

The legal application will be considered at an urgent hearing next Monday, May 7: the day before the Festival opens.

As Mr Branco has so far been very prominent in the media and legal spheres it seems necessary to state the reasons which led us to choose the film and risk action by the producer, whose lawyer, Juan Branco, likes to point out that his image and his credibility are essentially built on his numerous appearances at Cannes and by his closeness to the great auteurs honoured by the Festival. The latter is true, which adds to our bemusement.

During the winter, just as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was presented to us by Terry Gilliam, by the sales company Kinology Films and by the distributor Océan Films, Mr Branco informed us of his legal action against the director, following the breakdown of relations between them after the film’s pre-production.

Such legal disputes are not unusual. The Festival is regularly informed of them, but it is not in its remit to take a position on these sorts of matters. Therefore, after careful consideration and because it seemed possible the film would be released at the same time, we decided to feature this work in the Official Selection.

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. 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.

We therefore did not act carelessly or in any way “force matters” as Mr Juan Branco has said in the press. Our entire profession knows that “forcing matters” has always been Mr Branco’s favourite method, and we should recall that he organised 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. This was an accusation which didn’t go anywhere, because the Festival does not make promises to select films: it either selects them or it does not. Today, Mr Branco has allowed his lawyer to use intimidation and defamatory statements, as derisory as they are ridiculous, one of which targets the former President of an event which he has made use of throughout his career to establish his own reputation.

The Festival de Cannes will respect the legal decision, whatever it may be, but we strongly affirm that we stand squarely on the side of filmmakers and in particular on the side of Terry Gilliam. We know how important this project, which has gone through so many trials and tribulations, is to him. The trouble were caused on this last occasion by the actions of a producer who has shown his true colours once and for all during this episode and who has threatened us, via his lawyer, with a “humiliating defeat”.

Defeat would be to succumb to threats. 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.

The screening at the closing event of the Festival is subject to the decision of the judge at the hearing on May 7. The release of 300 copies of the film in France is currently scheduled for Saturday, May 19.

The Festival de Cannes calmly awaits the court’s decision.

Pierre Lescure, President, & Thierry Frémaux, General Delegate.

Here’s Branco’s response:

Three court rulings confirmed the exclusive rights of Paulo BRANCO and ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION to the film The Man Who Killed Don Quixotte, directed by Terry GILLIAM.

These decisions have the authority of res judicata. 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.

The Cannes Film Festival decided to override the court decisions that had been brought to its attention and that is why it was he who was sued.

There is indecency, to justify his behavior, to compare the situation of Terry GILLIAM, who refuses to respect judicial decisions in a state of law, to that of directors that are victim of repression and censorship in their countries.

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.

For sixteen years from 2000 to 2016, Terry GILLIAM did not find any producer willing to revive his project.

If this film exists today, it is thanks to the work and investments made by ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION and Paulo BRANCO, when no one believed in this film anymore

The Cannes Film Festival is not above the law and the virulence and aggressiveness of his tone will not change anything.

Paulo BRANCO does not use any method of intimidation by seizing justice to enforce his rights.

Claire HOCQUET, Avocate d’ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION
Paulo BRANCO
Juan BRANCO, Branco & Associés