Cannes blasts legal bid to thwart Gilliam premiere

The Cannes Film Festival organisers back director Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame who has just finished "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" after nearly 20 years but faces a suit by the film's former producer over who owns the rights (Photo: AFP)

The Cannes film festival on Monday denounced an attempt to thwart the world premiere of one of the most cursed films in history, standing by its director, Monty Python's Terry Gilliam.

"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote", which Gilliam has finally finished after nearly two decades of repeated disasters, was due to close the world's top film festival in the south of France next month.

But the comedy's former producer Paulo Branco launched a legal challenge last Wednesday to stop the screening and its French cinema release, claiming that his company Alfama Films owns the rights.

Festival organisers said Monday that they backed Gilliam, although they will respect a court ruling due on May 7 -- a day before Cannes opens -- on whether or not the screening can go ahead.

"We stand squarely on the side of filmmakers and in particular on the side of Terry Gilliam," they said in a statement.

"We know how important this project, which has gone through so many trials and tribulations, is to him," it added.

Gilliam's various attempts to shoot the surreal story have been beset by a series of calamities worthy of a film themselves -- they are in fact the subject of an acclaimed 2002 documentary, "Lost in La Mancha".

The set was washed away during an aborted attempt to make it in 2000 starring Johnny Depp, when the lead actor Jean Rochefort also had to be airlifted to hospital after falling ill.

A host of Hollywood stars including Ewan McGregor, John Hurt, Robert Duvall and Jack O'Connell were later linked with the project, but each time the production fell through.

- 'Intimidation' -

Branco insists that he holds the rights to the film, but Gilliam argues that the Portuguese producer lost his stake when he failed to raise enough money to make Cervantes' "unfilmable" novel in 2016.

The producer then tried and failed to block a new and successful shoot last year, starring "Star Wars" actor Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce.

Judges in France and Britain have previously sided with Branco in a series of rulings in the long-running dispute.

Branco has accused Gilliam and the festival organisers of trying to "railroad" through the Cannes premiere and French release before the courts have had their final say.

Cannes organisers shot back, accusing Branco and his lawyer -- his son Juan Branco, who also represents WikiLeaks' Julian Assange -- of "intimidation and defamatory statements, as derisory as they are ridiculous".

"Defeat would be to succumb to threats," they said of the dispute.

They added that in a year when two filmmakers in the main Cannes competition are under house arrest, "it is more important than ever to remember that artists need us to support them, not attack them."

Branco hit back through his legal team Monday, condemning the "virulence and aggression" of the festival's organisers, "which would change nothing".

"If the film exists today it is because of the work and investment of Alfama Films and Paulo Branco, who believed in it when no one else did," their statement added.