He Dreams of Giants is a documentary sequel to directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's Lost in La Mancha. It follows imaginative director Terry Gilliam in his latest (and successful) quest to create his passion project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The documentary is a wonderful deep dive into exploring a once-celebrated director in a slump and the eye-opening realities of the anguish that can be caused by the creative process of filmmaking. It is also an intelligently crafted documentary that is both appropriately creative with its visuals (it is about Gilliam, after all) while being a relatable story of a battle with one's own mind.
The documentary sucks in audiences from the offset, with a brilliant mix of slow-burn close-ups of an intense and older Gilliam, followed by old footage of the flood (both literal and figurative) of bad luck the director endured when trying to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote with Johnny Depp in 2000. The recap is followed by visuals of the director walking back and forth in a plain white setting, along with powerful narration where he utters the words: “Life is hard. Art is hard.” The opening ticks all the boxes as far as effectively setting up the tone and story we are about to embark on, as well as catching audiences up with a recap and giving them enough eye-catching shots that will help keep them engaged.
He Dreams of Giants, at its core, is an exploration into the struggles of filmmaking. Often (and justifiably), the result of a film is celebrated if it works or maligned if it doesn't, yet few acknowledge the journey and struggle it takes to make an epic cinematic tale. Fulton and Pepe's documentary pulls no punches in showing the gruelling side, as we get an intimate look at Gilliam's countless shifts in emotions. One moment he's nervous, then ecstatic, and the next, he's irate, leaving a pile of F-bombs in his tracks. All of this can happen in the span of what feels like five minutes (or less). It also highlights the intricate details that go into filmmaking, like costumes or getting the smallest shot just right. It's a painful process, in all honesty, particularly for a passionate man like Gilliam and all of these struggles allow audiences, regardless of if their film fanatics or not, to relate to the struggles of trying to achieve something. A feeling almost everyone has felt in their life.
“It's not easy living so long, but I cannot die. Unless, perhaps, I could rid myself of my dreams.” The quote from Jonathan Pryce's Don Quixote exemplifies the incredibly poetic nature of this documentary that details a director's passion and obsession. Not only is Gilliam hell-bent on creating his vision, through quotes serving as almost voice over's for shots of the director on set, we see a fascinating connection between his journey to make this film and the material he is using. It's a clever connection, which along with the occasional artsy visuals or flashbacks to past films, creates a fantastical feel the director is so often known for, even amidst this grounded story detailing his struggle to conquer his creative Mount Everest.
Although the documentary contains great visuals and relevant messages that a large audience should be aware of when it comes to the subject of art and even one's desire to pursue a goal. It will unfortunately never reach a large audience due to its subject matter. On the surface, not many will be enamoured by a story about a film that did not set the world on fire. Plus, the methodical pacing, although effective in allowing the emotion of the scenes to set in, will not work for everyone either. The documentary is also oddly like Gilliam's filmography. It's certainly not everyone's cup of tea.
In the end, Fulton and Pepe's sequel to their 2002 documentary on Gilliam is more than worthy of your time as it intelligently merges the director's creative struggle with universal themes and relatable human emotions. In addition to that, the directors effectively hook you without the visuals that they captured in the first documentary. So even if you're not a fan of Terry Gilliam or you're not familiar with the history of this subject, you'll still find He Dreams of Giants to be quite an engrossing experience.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents He Dreams of Giants on digital platforms 29 March 2021.