It has been a typically fast-moving day at the world’s biggest film festival. In the space of just a few hours we have had a string of updates on already epic Cannes closer The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. We’ve had confirmation that director Terry Gilliam was taken unwell in London, that Amazon has backed out of U.S. distribution for the movie and that the film can screen at the festival following a heated legal battle. Here’s the latest on the complicated story:
First things first, health. Nothing should be more important than that, though as we know, that often doesn’t seem the case at a tension-filled market. I’ve just spoken to the film’s Oscar-winning exec producer Jeremy Thomas and director Terry Gilliam suffered what he described as a ‘very minor stroke’. He was taken ill over the weekend, in part due to the stress around the movie, but he is now recovering well in London and will be in Cannes for the film’s premiere on Saturday, as will select talent.
Secondly, why has Amazon backed out of the movie? Amazon has actually been off the movie for a number of weeks. A Reuters article from a few weeks ago which listed the online giant as being on the movie was updated at the time to remove their name. The digital giant tried to reach an agreement between the warring parties in the on-going rights dispute over the movie but those parties could not resolve their differences. With the deadline for delivery having passed, Amazon has decided to cut its losses and move on from the drama surrounding the movie. It has a pipeline to deliver and would have needed to spend a lot of money on marketing the film. Who knows what next legal twist could be to come on the long-gestating project, so for Amazon, they felt better out of it, even if they do face a potential financial loss.
That leads us to aggrieved Euro exec Paulo Branco — the established Portuguese producer of movies including Cosmopolis and Mysteries Of Lisbon – – who convened a remarkable impromptu press conference this afternoon at his Alfama Films booth, which I attended. Branco claims he has invested plenty of money and not a little time in the movie and that he has been cut out by producers in Spain, France and UK. Hence the legal challenge to its distribution in any form. At the booth he gave press a printed copy of a 3-page email (the first page of which is pictured left) from Amazon’s lawyers to the film’s producers and sales agent Kinology from a few weeks ago, which acknowledges the on-going claims by Branco and the multiple legal battles around the film. The email states that Amazon is keen for a resolution between the parties but it warns that the movie is on course to miss its delivery date [they did miss it] and thus Amazon would be within its rights to back out [which they now have]. Branco claimed their commitment on the $17M-budgeted movie stood at around $2.5M.
During a stunningly frank 45-minute speech to a large group of international media, Branco vowed to launch a damages claim against Cannes and artistic director Thierry Fremaux should today’s court decision go against him [which it has]. He did say he was keen to find a resolution and for the film to screen but only with recognition of his part-ownership claim to the movie. He lambasted what he termed the “ego” of Cannes and Fremaux, claiming the festival thought it could “act above the law” by intervening in a commercial dispute. After Cannes publicly issued some stinging words about Branco last month, today the producer had some choice personal comments of his own for Fremaux, who he said was “arrogant” and guilty of conflicts of interest in his festival decision-making. He also said that Don Quixote should have played in Competition and was not the festival’s first choice for the “terrible graveyard” closing slot, which had been offered to a French movie in Directors’ Fortnight which declined the offer.
Meanwhile, over in Salle Debussy, festival head Fremaux was heralding today’s court decision by claiming “we won”. There are seemingly elements of right on both sides here [two court verdicts went in Branco’s favour before today]. What’s certainly true is that most parties have been diminished by it. Festival goers are the only real winners because they get to see the movie. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of this one, though. Today’s ruling doesn’t definitively clear up the movie’s commercial release prospects, for one, and there’s also a domestic-sized hole in the budget…
Just as we went live, in fact, Branco issued the following statement to press:
“The Judge of Emergency Interim Proceedings has confirmed that the contracts of the company ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION and of Paulo BRANCO have not been terminated and that both do in fact justify “being owners of rights in virtue of these contracts that have by pursuit in neglect of their consent of litigious production and exploitation and of which the violation characterizes an apparent, manifest and illicit discord”.
He thus constrains the Cannes Film Festival to show, beforehand of the screening, a warning addressed to the public in written form, projected on the screen, which reminds that this screening “does not bear prejudice to the rights invoked by the company ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION and Mister Paulo BRANCO on this film against Mister Terry GILLIAM and the producers mentioned in the credits, which are subject to current proceedings”.
The Cannes Film Festival will be sole responsible for the screening fees of this message.
Mister Terry GILLIAM and the companies STAR INVEST FILMS FRANCE and KINOLOGY are sentenced to reimburse ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION and Paulo BRANCO for the fees endured in order to make their rights enforced.
This decision confirms ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION’s analysis which does not allow to this day, considering the state of judiciary decisions already given, the release of the movie in theatres on May 19th 2018 on the French territory, which would constitute a violation of its rights.
ALFAMA FILMS PRODUCTION owns 100% of the rights of exploitation in France, the United States, Italy and Benelux.
On other territories in the world, no decision of commercialization or exploitation can be taken without its accord.”
In case you’re in need of a refresh on the history behind all this, here’s the backstory.