In the bizarrely underconceived Great Directors, cinephile-turned-documentarian Angela Ismailos rounds up a dozen “great” filmmakers. What traits are shared by Bernardo Bertolucci and, say, Richard Linklater? It seems the answer is “They answered Ismailos’ interview request.”
“I thought I knew them from their cinema,” our host confesses. “But I realized I knew nothing.” Such brow-furrowing banalities are par for the course, as Ismailos—usually seen either strolling city streets or giving her best thinking-hard face in nodding reaction shots—tosses her film 101 queries in between hipping us to the basics of “midnight movies” and Margaret Thatcher (thanks!).
David Lynch bellows that filmmakers shouldn’t be made to discuss the meaning of their work. “The film is the talking. The film is the thing,” he thunders, and you can’t help but want to shout at Ismailos that the man has an excellent point.
Meanwhile, Liliana Cavani spends her screen time discussing the meaning behind her Nazi-sex favorite The Night Porter, making it sound a lot more interesting than it really is. Todd Haynes provides the doc’s most energetic interview, but Ismailos could have asked him for some tips on editing. The I’m Not There maven is preceded, for some reason, by cine-diarist Agnès Varda. Elsewhere, British social- realist Ken Loach leads into his clear American counterpart: The mind behind Eraserhead.
It’s clear that Great Directors is intended as a primer. But of what, exactly? Ismailos’ picks are purely American-European and generally of the art house. There are no black filmmakers, no avant-garde and no Hollywood types (although Lynch, Stephen Frears and John Sayles have all dabbled). No one hails from South America, Asia, the Middle East, Africa or even Australia. The entire southern hemisphere has been dissed.
Great Directors feels under-realized; Ismailos even confesses on-screen to having never heard of Wim Wenders’ similar, superior doc Chambre 666, which she would have stumbled upon had she done minimal research. It’s tough trashing someone who thinks provocateur Catherine Breillat is worth taking seriously, too, but the truth is that Ismailos’ labor of love feels like a high school project.