(Great Directors was picked up for distribution by Paladin Films. It opens at the Quad Cinema in New York City on July 2, 2010, followed by Los Angeles on July 9, 2010.)
For a movie called Great Directors, first-time director Angela Ismailos makes the most egregious, unforgivable mistake of all. This seemingly well-intentioned woman with refined cinematic taste inserts herself into her documentary in a way that is distracting to the point of dismay. I say this not to chastise Ms. Ismailos, who after doing some research appears to have lucked into one of the more privileged lives a modern human can have. I simply wanted to warn you that the going gets very tough in Great Directors. But if you accept that and focus on the positive, there are some worthwhile moments to be had.
Over the course of who knows how long—financing clearly was not an issue here—Ismailos traveled all over the world to sit down with some of cinema’s most celebrated directors to talk to them about their craft. The list of interviewees speaks for itself: Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch, John Sayles, and Agnes Varda.
As the film wears on and your eyes begin to widen every time Ismailos enters the picture (as in literally entering the frame), it will test even the most casual movie watcher’s tolerance. To protect myself, I chose to view this device humorously, a “Where is Waldo?” game of sorts—particularly when you get the sense that Ms. Ismailos has shaped her hair, make-up, and wardrobe to match the ‘sensibilities’ of the director she is talking to. But then you get a choice nugget like this from maestro David Lynch and none of that matters anymore:
“As soon as you finish a film, people want you to talk about it. And… the film is the talking. The film is the thing. So you go see the film. That’s the thing. It’s a whole thing. It is there. And that is it.”
See Great Directors, if only for fleeting, stellar moments like these.
— Michael Tully