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From a quixotic quest to analog absurdities

Terry Gilliam on the set of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," from "Lost In La Mancha."
Terry Gilliam on the set of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," from "Lost In La Mancha."IFC Films/Photofest

Terry Gilliam, a brilliant if uneven auteur whose films include “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975), “Brazil” (1985), and “12 Monkeys” (1995), finally finished his long-in-the-making “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” in 2018. After all the turmoil that went into the making, the movie itself is almost anticlimactic.

Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s “Lost in La Mancha” (2002) picks up the project in 2000, after Gilliam had already spent 10 years trying to put it together. At last, with the cast he wanted (septuagenarian Jean Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as a Sancho Panza of sorts) and a $32 million budget, he started shooting his loopy, ingenious, time-traveling adaptation of Cervantes’s sprawling, picaresque novel.


Immediately he was beset with Jobian disasters. There was a storm, a deluge, infuriating glitches and delays, F-16 fighter jets on maneuvers showing up on the soundtrack, and finally the loss of Rochefort, who was incapacitated by slipped disks.

Fulton and Pepe do the disaster justice, underscoring Gilliam’s wry resignation as he realizes that, like his subject, he’s fighting a lost cause. The film joins Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams” (1982), about Werner Herzog and “Fitzcarraldo” (1982), and Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse” (1991), about Francis Ford Coppola and Apocalypse Now” (1979), as a portrait of the artist as a victim of hubris.

“Lost in La Mancha” screens on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. A conversation with guests from the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “Quixote Nuevo” follows the screening.

Go to coolidge.org/films/lost-la-mancha.

Good cop, good cop

Ernie Stevens (left) and Joe Smarro in "Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops"
Ernie Stevens (left) and Joe Smarro in "Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops" HBO

Jenifer McShane’s “Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops” opens with a shocking TV news clip. Dallas police officers order a man suffering from mental illness to drop a screwdriver he is holding. He doesn’t immediately comply, and seconds later they open fire, killing him.


To improve the response to such situations the San Antonio Police Department established a 10-person Mental Health Unit. McShane follows two members of the team, Ernie Stevens and Joe Smarro, as they go on patrol; and the body cam and handheld footage provide an intense and intimate look at their efforts to defuse volatile situations and bring hope to the desperate and suicidal. Not all their efforts are successful; Smarro can’t forget the man who jumped to his death after the officer tried for two hours to talk him down. Himself a victim of child abuse and a veteran with PTSD, Smarro is well qualified to empathize with such suffering.

“Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops” premieres on HBO on Nov. 19 at 9 p.m. and will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand, and partners’ streaming platforms.

Go to itsh.bo/33CPLaH.

A searing image

In 1964 Gerri Santoro, a 28-year-old Connecticut mother of two, died a miserable death after a botched illegal abortion. No one knew who she was when the photo of her naked body lying in a pool of blood on a motel floor was printed in Ms. magazine in 1973 with the caption “Never Again.” Soon it appeared in other media and on pro-choice demonstrators’ placards as a response to the images of fetuses used by anti-abortion activists.

Did the unauthorized use of this photo violate Santoro’s right to privacy and control over her own body, much like the anti-abortion laws the image was meant to protest?


In her documentary “Leona’s Sister Gerri” (1995), Jane Gillooly confronts those issues and also does justice to Santoro’s life, interviewing her sister and children and telling the story of a loving, vivacious young woman who fell victim to misogyny, domestic violence, and a patriarchal culture. It’s a reminder of a dark past and a warning of a possible future.

“Leona’s Sister Gerri” screens on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. as part of the DocYard series at the Brattle Theatre. The filmmaker will participate in a post-screening Q&A moderated by Irina Leimbacher, who teaches film at Keene State College.

Go to thedocyard.com/2019/08/leonas-sister-gerri.

Barbarians at the gates

Waad al-Kateab in "For Sama"
Waad al-Kateab in "For Sama" Courtesy Frontline

Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’s “For Sama” is a video letter to al-Kateab’s daughter, who was yet unborn when Bashar al-Assad’s forces had begun the siege of the anti-government rebel stronghold of Aleppo. A journalist, al-Kateab decided to remain in the city until the end with her daughter, witnessing and recording what was happening while her husband, one of the city’s last doctors, tended the stream of casualties, many of them children, in his battered, under-equipped, and barely functioning hospital. Defiance gives way to grief and dread as the inevitable downfall nears. An unflinching glimpse at an ongoing tragedy that the world would rather forget.

“For Sama” will premiere as part of PBS’s “Frontline” on Nov. 19 at 10 p.m. and online at www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/for-sama.

Sex, laughs, and videotape


Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher
Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher Erik Ljung

You might want to take a concession-stand break when “Bonion Serjery” comes on during Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher’s Found Footage Festival, Volume 9. Otherwise their collection of banal, bizarre, and just plain incomprehensible videos are pretty hilarious. My favorites include the enigmatically title “Hose Plant,” a clip on painting with spit (genuine spit paintings will be available for purchase at the screening), and perhaps the greatest X-rated cat video of all time.

More tragic than comic are the guy singing a made-up Easter song to a bunny in a grubby cage and a sad 10-year-old contestant (whom Pickett and Prueher accurately describe as a “Victorian ghost child”) in the 1987 Wisconsin Junior Miss America Pageant who in her introduction notes that Fred Astaire died at 88 and his widow was 43. Perhaps the most impressive part of the show is that in this age of YouTube these guys remain proudly analog, diving into dumpsters and scouring thrift stores in search of VHS tapes that confirm the absurdity of the human condition.

The Found Footage Festival, Volume 9 screens on Nov. 22 at 9:45 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre. Prueher and Pickett will be on hand to introduce the films.

Go to www.brattlefilm.org/2019/11/22/found-footage-festival-volume-9.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.