Who's In It: Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Agnes Varda, Richard Linklater, Catherine Breillat, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Liliana Cavani, John Sayles, Todd Haynes, Angela Ismailos
The Basics: First time documentarian Angela Ismailos engages 10 of the world's most notable living directors (see above) in wide-ranging conversations about cinema -- where their cinephilia began, why they make films, how they've processed great success and ego-smashing failure alike. (Are these the "greatest" directors around? Press notes claim Ismailos tried but couldn't get Abbas Kiarostami, Werner Herzog, Francis Ford Coppola, Wong Kar-Wei and others to participate in the project.) Film clips and Ismailos's own contextualizing voice-over fill in visual and audio gaps, resulting in a layered, free-form doc that celebrates the art and its artists with simplicity, if also with a few awkward transitions and amateurish filmmaking choices.
What's The Deal: Any cineaste worth their indie/art house cred should devour Great Directors with gusto, sending documentarian Ismailos envious thoughts the whole while simply for her intimate access to the likes of Bertolucci, Lynch, Breillat, and their estimable peers. Just imagine: An afternoon spent with Agnes Varda, in the very courtyard abode she shared with Jacques Demy! Waxing poetic with Bertolucci on Pier Pasolini, or geeking out with Todd Haynes on the oeuvre of Rainier Werner Fassbinder! Film nerds will likely find Great Directors a lovely, brisk jaunt through contemporary film history as experienced by these American and European film icons, even if the wealth of wisdom from any one of these filmmakers alone surely could have filled its own two-hour documentary.
Ismailos's Biggest Misstep: Inserting gratuitous shots of herself into the assemblage of "great directors" on the screen. A striking blonde she surely is, but Ismailos's conceit isn't just jarring, it's immodest without justification -- especially when she edits her own reaction shots into the conversation or films herself walking artfully through evocative architecture in silent contemplation. Great Directors may be the only documentary about film in which more attention is occasionally drawn to the documentarian's own fashion stylings than to the actual works of cinema being discussed.
What Makes Up For That Filmmaking Flub: The fascinating universal themes and topics that surface, linking disparate directors of differing nationalities, cultures, and generations, including but not limited to: their youthful discoveries of film as art medium; the perception and reality of working in Hollywood (i.e., Lynch on Dune); that lingering doubt that drives every artist; how personal politics seep into film, whether in gay, British, feminist, or other subgenres.
Sample Quotes And Bon Mots: "[It was] a beautifully photographed… piece of s**t." -- John Sayles on The Patriot, discussing his conflicted relationship with the Hollywood machine.
"My most spiritual film." -- David Lynch on Eraserhead, the early independent film that got Mel Brooks to approve him as director on The Elephant Man.
"I think he gave me an enormous part of himself." -- Bernardo Bertolucci on Marlon Brando during the making of Last Tango in Paris.
"I am a granddaughter of Bergman. Had I not seen The Naked Night at 12 years old, I would have never become a filmmaker." -- Catherine Breillat on her formative cinematic influence, Ingmar Bergman.