By Helen Donlon
Terry Gilliam is one of the patrons of the Ibiza International Film Festival, along with Alan Parker, John Hurt, Angela Molina, Bigas Luna, Antonio Isasi and Nacho Cano.
Much adored for his Monty Python output, he has also fathered some epic features including Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Fisher King, Tideland, and most recently The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Produed by daughter Amy Gilliam, the latter stars Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Lily Cole, Tom Waits and Christopher Plummer. Famously it was during the shooting of Parnassus that Heath Ledger’s tragic death was announced. Amy Gilliam told us what happened when they heard the news.
“It was a shock. Definitely. No one could foresee anything so horrific happening. Everyone went into autopilot but with even more intensity because not only had we lost a friend we’d lost an actor, and we had a movie and there was no way we could let the film go down. We had three weeks to figure it out and start shooting again because Christopher Plummer had a deadline.”
Within those three weeks Depp, Farrell and Law all stepped in to help. “Yeah, with Terry and with Heath’s family’s blessing. It was amazing how everyone just came together and wanted to complete it with us. It was fantastic. In the shock and awfulness the amount of love and support that came with it. It was difficult on everyone, but we all just decided to go forward and make it happen. Everyone felt the same way. It was moving ahead.”
And move ahead they did. The film was generally well-received at Cannes in May where it premiered. “It was amazing. Those were three very long, very hard years trying to complete it. We had the loss of Heath Ledger and then we had the loss of my producing partner Bill Vince, so it’s been this incredibly difficult journey. Going to Cannes was just an amazing sense of wow, we’ve achieved it. It was a great feeling to walk up that red carpet with the producers and actors.”
“I guess we had about 13 minutes of standing ovation at Cannes,” Terry Gilliam tells us later. “I found it quite boring to sit there for that long with that many people but obviously it showed the response was very good. That was nice because it’s the first time we showed it to a very large audience. It was nice to get those responses. I don’t really need them though. I know it’s a really good film, and that’s the important thing. It’s nice though when a couple of thousand people agree with me.”
A bit different from Ibiza then, Cannes?
“Ibiza’s such a funny festival because it’s very small and it’s still trying to learn to walk, but the people I’ve met here already are incredible, they’re fantastic. Because it’s such a small festival you have time to talk to people, time to relate normally and relax. It seems to me there’s no escape from Ibiza. I mean once you sort of show some interest you become like a prisoner of Ibiza. It’s like the siren song was sounded.” Gilliam now lives in England though, and even carries a British passport. “Mike Palin, Terry Jones and I all live within five minutes each other.” So does he see himself as a British filmmaker now? What is British film these days anyway?
“Well, Shane Meadows. He’s a good director, smart. Then Mr. Madonna (Guy Ritchie) couldn’t be more British but are his films British films? They’re about Brtain but then they have American actors in them too.”
“Britain’s a third world country. It’s no longer the great empire, it’s America’s poodle, and it’s desperately trying to hold on to some sort of identitity. It’s embarassing to me that Tony Blair probably brought Britain to its lowest point in the Iraqi war with George Bush. It really sucked. Why doesn’t England align itself with Europe? It still shares the language of America. Politically it may be the right thing, in the long run it may not.”
Terry Gilliam Interview
Back to filmmaking and of all the moments that feature in the great Gilliam canon, I bring up the fact I credit him with inventing Brad Pitt version two in his turnaround Twelve Monkeys role.
“I just gave him room to reinvent himself. Brad fought for that part. I liked him, I thought you’re a really good guy, you’re decent, you’re genuine, and you’re so desperate to prove something about yourself that nobody is letting you show and I said let’s go for it. He worked so hard. He went into psychiatric hospitals and he worked and worked, and when he came in he was on fire. He was fantastic. But I just provided the space.”
The IFF put on a special retrospective of several Gilliam films this year including Twelve Monkeys. When you put them all together, it’s striking how diverse his films are, and how grand. The festival’s been lucky to have his support.
“Film festivals are useful because of two things. You have a chance in any film festival to see films that you’d never get to see because of the ways of distribution, so film festivals are alternative distribution. So you can see what’s going on in the world. The other important thing is they bring filmmakers together. Filmmakers are very isolated people who need reassurance about what we’re doing. We share stories and suddenly we all realise we’ve all had a terrible time and that’s really important. And the local people can meet the people who make films so they’re not some distant gods. These are all useful things.”
“A festival like this brings attention to Ibiza. Cuba Gooding Jr,’s never been here before, Bill Forsyth hasn’t, it goes on. So you’re actually bringing tourism to the island, with a lot of people who are succesful and have popular influence. We’re talking about an island that many people have never heard of, so if the local politicians would start behaving more intelligently… the place would benefit. Wake up Ibiza.”
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