‘The True Don Quixote’ begins filming in St. Bernard, with Tim Blake Nelson starring

3 years ago The Times-Picayune 0

Since its publication more than 400 years ago, the title character in Cervantes’ classic comedy “Don Quixote” — chronicling the misadventures of a well-intended but deeply deluded Spanish dreamer who is convinced he is a knight of old — has become known around the world as “The Man of La Mancha.” Now, he’s becoming a man of St. Bernard.

“The True Don Quixote,” a feature-length adaption of Cervantes’ 1605 book, starring Tim Blake Nelson (“O, Brother Where Art Thou?”) as the title character and Jacob Batalon (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) as hapless squire Sancho Panza, started shooting this week just outside New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish, where it will also be set.

“There’s nowhere better than here to make this story,” producer Trey Burvant said Tuesday (May 9). “Cervantes wrote it because he lived in Spain and he lived in that part of the world. We found that St. Bernard was a great match. Don Quixote never gets more than a few miles from his house, which is a big part of the joke. It’s not like it’s a worldwide trek across continents and different lands. We felt St. Bernard and the landscape was a good fit for the story.”

Aside from the new setting — which presents obvious (but yet answered) questions about the book’s famous tilting-at-windmills episode — the story will also be set in modern times, a concession to the production’s low-budget status. But given that Cervantes’ original tale derived much of its humor from the fact that the age of chivalry had long passed by the time Don Quixote first mounted up, Burvant said there’s no reason a contemporary adaptation can’t hold true to the themes of the original.

“We feel it’s a satire that’s more relevant today in some respects,” Burvant said, adding what he says will be one of the questions at the center of the film: “What is the sane response to an insane world?”

Added writer-director Chris Poche: ” ‘Don Quixote’ is big. It’s the most published book in the world, after the Bible, having sold five times as many copies as the first ‘Harry Potter’ book. At the same time, it’s this hilarious, intimate little buddy comedy about a guy who essentially just goes out and attacks his neighborhood because he goes insane from boredom and propaganda, which feels very timely.”

“The True Don Quixote” is notable for being what its producers expect to be the first feature-length, American-made adaptation of Cervantes’ story. It’s been loosely adapted as a stage musical, “The Man of La Mancha,” which in turn was adapted for the screen in 1972 by an Italian crew shooting in Rome. Orson Welles also famously started filming a big-screen adaptation but never finished, and director Terry Gilliam has been working since 1998 on his long-gestating “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”

But despite all that, and despite the enduring popularity of the source material, no feature-length American production of “Don Quixote” has managed made it to the screen, according to the film’s producers. Or not yet, anyway.

“The True Don Quixote” is also notable for its local pedigree. Aside from Nelson and Batalon, it will be almost entirely a Louisiana production.

“There’s literally only three people who are not local, and they are all actors,” producer Jason Waggenspack said. “The rest of them are the best of the best in Louisiana.”

That starts with Poche, Burvant and Waggenspack, but it also includes the fil’s cinematographer (Carlos Bible) and assistant director (Kim Barnard), the production designer (Monique Champagne) and production coordinator (Nick Reasons), the costume designer (Ann Walters) and the make-up department head (Lesley Rodriguez). The list goes on, right on through to the on-set chef (Chris Watson) and caterer Lakehouse Catering.

“It was our intention to make this a local production through and through,” Burvant said. ” … It’ll be a great statement about what Louisiana can develop, produce and deliver in our humble little state.”

Principal photography on “The True Don Quixote” started Monday (May 8) and is expected to last 21 days, with the hopes of having the film completed in time to make the rounds of the fall film festival circuit.