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With: Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach, David Lynch, John Sayles, Agnès Varda, Angela Ismailos
Written by: Angela Ismailos
Directed by: Angela Ismailos
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 90
Date: 05/19/2009

Great Directors (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Clip Show

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If you're one of my fellow film fans, there's nothing quite like a good clip show. It's so easy to please us just by showing us some scenes from our favorite movies. I never fail to "ooh" and "ahh" if you can surprise me with a good clip. Angela Ismailos' debut documentary Great Directors has plenty of them, and it generally made me happy. I was even happier to hear some of my favorite directors like David Lynch and Richard Linklater talking about how they dealt with their flops Dune and The Newton Boys. I love hearing dear, sweet Agnes Varda talking about herself, and I was even interested in hearing what the aggravating Catherine Breillat had to say.

I will recommend Great Directors based on the pleasure it gave me as a film fan, but I can't say it's a great movie, or even a good movie. Director Ismailos admits she has no plan as the movie begins, and indeed, she hasn't. There's no form or flow to these discussions. They switch from filmmaker to filmmaker and topic to topic almost at random. There are discussions about controversy, influences (Fassbinder in one case, Pasolini in another), humble beginnings, and success and failure. And the brief running time doesn't really allow for an in-depth exploration of any one career. (Liliana Cavani is especially shorted.) The interviews seem fairly candid; as someone who has interviewed four of these ten directors I'd be curious to know how much time Ismailos had with each of them, and how she managed to disarm them so well.

Then there's Ismailos herself. She appears from time to time in the film, almost as filler. She's in some arty shots traveling between interviews, and the editor occasionally, awkwardly cuts to her nodding and listening, Broadcast News-style. She's pretty, with long, blond hair, and usually wears either gorgeous dresses or jeans and boots. She speaks with a Greek accent, thankfully; if she had been American, this film would have resembled an "Entertainment Tonight" puff piece. I wouldn't be surprised if the producer argued for more footage of her as a way to add "sex appeal" and help sell the film.

But what Great Directors needed in addition to a point, was a personality. It needed Ismailos to find out why she connected to these filmmakers and discover a way to make herself part of the story. She focuses on certain political filmmakers here, talking about Loach and Sayles, and their particular methods of inserting politics into film. Perhaps that's part of the problem. If she appreciates cinema with a "message" at the expense of personal poetry, then she wouldn't understand why someone like Lynch is great, and she also wouldn't know how to make a great film. If she dearly loves these filmmakers, or some of their films, it's too hard to tell.

Kino Lorber has released a two-disc DVD set that includes over four hours of additional interview footage with all ten directors. There are also a handful of trailers.

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