DIFF Student Reviews: He Dreams of Giants

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

As part of our partnership with the Dublin International Film Festival, several Media students were given the opportunity to screen and review films appearing at the festival. Here, three of our students review the documentary He Dreams of Giants, directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe.

Ash Potter

At the core of He Dreams Of Giants is a personal rendition of director Terry Gilliam's three-decade battle to bring his film about Don Quixote to fruition.

What presents itself as a documentary about a film continuing to attract disaster and failure, reveals itself to be a documentary about Terry Gilliam's obsession with his art being consumed by an audience and the complexities of his stifled legacy.

He Dreams Of Giants was released as a follow-up to Lost in La Mancha. The story follows the making of director Terry Gilliam's film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote starring Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce.

Gilliam sought and struggled to produce the film multiple times over the course of twenty-nine years, making it a legendary example of production hell. Famous leads like Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, Michael Palin and Robert Duvall were cast, then cancelled following funding difficulties, flash flooding and scheduling conflicts.

Directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, this documentary delves headfirst into the eventual production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote that at times drove Gilliam over the edge, and tampered with his physical health.

Vintage archive and behind the scenes footage piece together former directing failures by Gilliam and the pressure to succeed on a project started when he was a different man — youth on his side.

Faced with the mounting expectations of his lifelong dream, close angle shots and inventive cinematographic techniques palpably exhibit the stressful on-set environment and leering mortality concerns that Gilliam faces up against. His obsession with directing a “cursed film” overshadowed by numerous disasters tackles other private life themes such as survival, legacy and humankind's thirst for art.

Many parallels between Gilliam's life and the fictional, fantasy world he’s created collide. Stood before a white backdrop and sit-down interviews convey Gilliam’s inner thoughts and inspire ambition as we clutch to the hope that his film will finally be realised.

He Dreams of Giants is an off-centre documentary film offering the audience a counter lens view to a project dubbed by critics as unfinishable. Each angle is carefully curated to convey the emotional turmoil and exhaustion devoted throughout the many years. He Dreams Of Giants strategically transcends the expectation of a behind the scenes documentary as a slightly melancholic yet inspirational depiction of great storytelling.  

Ash Potter is a student journalist who hosted 103.2 Dublin City FM’s radio show Fully Dressed, has interned for Newstalk radio station, produced features and was the photo editor for the Student Media Awards 2020 nominee DUB8 magazine. She is also a writer for online Japanese street fashion magazine The COMM. Her blog a top 5 nominee for Blog of the Year at the Student Media Awards 2020 showcases her portfolio.  

Anne Woetzel

He Dreams Of Giants is a documentary by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe following Terry Gilliam’s 30-year-long quest to bring life into his vision The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Struggling with budget and time pressure on set, casting issues and natural disasters, Terry Gilliam harbours self-doubts. "I've done the film too often in my head. Is it better just to leave it there?"

Throughout the production the documentary offers an entrancing glance into the development, displaying the many disastrous struggles and small successes behind the finished piece without sugar-coating.

Finally, the documentary serves as a display of artistic obsession in its original sense. “It’s not a film, it’s a medical condition”, and it becomes quite clear that there is only one outcome: Gilliam will either conquer Don Quixote or Quixote will overcome him.

Anne Woetzel is a Communications and Media Production student at Griffith College. Originally from Germany, she relocated to Dublin in 2020 after completing a teaching degree and is now pursuing a creative career in Photography and Visual Media Production.

Dieu-Hang Tran

“Should I just leave it as an unfinished dream?” said over and over again by Terry Gilliam in He Dreams of Giants, a documentary about the making of his most famous film: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

The New York Times once considered The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as one of the most cursed films. It took three decades in the making and had been through the most tragical events you can think of – a resigned lead actor, suspended budget and a flood.

Three decades are long enough to give up on a dream, but Terry Gilliam did not want it. In fact, he could not give it up. This dream haunted him.

He Dreams of Giants explores the relationship between Terry Gilliam and his Don Quixote adaptation movie. He spent thirty years in total, eighteen years to think of how to make Don Quixote happens once at last when he reached his late 70s. Throughout the documentary, I see Terry in Don Quixote and Don Quixote in Terry.

The documentary got me thinking about what does it take to do arts. It could be a lifetime. Creativity keeps artists alive, but it also haunts them. Like the way The Man Who Killed Don Quixote kept Terry Gilliam awake several nights. Sometimes it was not easy to just let an idea go, they turn into wrinkles if you let them unaccomplished over years.

If you have an idea and you cannot sleep at night without doing it, perhaps the 89 minutes of He Dreams of Giants would help you through the night.

Dieu-Hang Tran, a Griffith College  Communications student, chose to study English abroad due to a firm belief that language is an extended part of culture.

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