Lost in La Mancha is a 2002 documentary film about Terry Gilliam's unfinished film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a film adaptation of the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. It was shot in 2000 during Gilliam's first attempt to make the film with the purpose of being its making-of, but Gilliam's failure in making the movie led it to be retitled Lost in la Mancha and to be released independently.
Written and directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, Lost in La Mancha presents Gilliam's quest to make Don Quixote as a parallel to Quixote's quest to become a hero. It co-stars Johnny Depp, Jean Rochefort, and Vanessa Paradis, all supposed to star in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and is narrated by Jeff Bridges.
Finding the source material written by Miguel de Cervantes too vast, Gilliam and his co-writer decided to create their own version of the Quixote story, including a major change inspired by Mark Twain's novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The character of Sancho Panza would appear only very early in the film, to be replaced by Toby Grisoni, a twenty-first century marketing executive thrown back through time, whom Quixote mistakes for Panza.
Terry Gilliam was very excited to make this movie, since Don Quixote embodies many of the themes that run through his own work (such as the individual versus society, the concept of sanity, etc.). The entire movie would have been filmed in Spain and throughout Europe. Jean Rochefort was picked to play Don Quixote, in preparation for which he spent seven months learning English. Toby was to be played by Johnny Depp, and Vanessa Paradis would have been his love interest.
Lost in La Mancha tells the story of the film's very delicate schedule and budget, which completely unraveled once production began. Gilliam is shown early on telling his crew not to be afraid to tell him that something is too complicated or expensive to be done because he needs to be restrained sometimes. In another interview he says he wants his films to be seen and enjoyed by the widest audience possible.
On the first day of shooting, the crew discovered that their outdoor filming location in the area known as Bardenas Reales was plagued by nearly constant noise from a nearby NATO aircraft target practice area. Gilliam decided to continue capturing footage, expecting to replace the audio in post-production. The second day of shooting featured a flash flood and hail which damaged equipment, and permanently changed the appearance of the location, where some shots had not yet been completed.
Days later it became clear that Rochefort was injured, and within a week Gilliam learned that Rochefort had a herniated disc and would be unable to continue filming. This ended production completely and resulted in a record $15 million insurance claim. The insurance company owned the rights to the screenplay for several years, until they were transferred back to Gilliam. Production of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote was restarted in 2008.
The Lost in La Mancha filmmakers, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, had previously made a documentary about Gilliam's film 12 Monkeys titled The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of Twelve Monkeys and were strongly supported by Gilliam throughout their filming. Gilliam reportedly often has people documenting the making of films so that should something go wrong he has a record of the events from his perspective.
The documentary received very positive reception from critics. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 94% of critics have given Lost in la Mancha a positive review based on 99 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10, making the film a "Certified fresh" on the website's rating system. It also holds a "Top Critics" score of 89%. The website's consensus is "A remarkable behind-the-scenes look at a movie that wasn't, Lost in La Mancha is an incisive, entertaining document of the difficulties inherent in the moviemaking process."
Critic Leonard Maltin has described Lost in La Mancha as one of the best films about the process of moviemaking.
It was nominated for various awards including a BAFTA Award and a Satellite Award for Best Documentary Film, and won a Satellite Award for Best Documentary DVD.