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Great Directors (Anisma Films, NR)

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Great Directors is a fluff film about people who don’t make fluff films.

The premise seems interesting enough: Documentary filmmaker Angela Ismailos interviews famous, important directors from all over the world and cobbles it together into one feature film in an attempt to see what makes them tick, to draw parallels between them, etc. Aided by the fact that she has great taste in who is a great director and the willingness of these directors to be interviewed by her for the film, we should have an important cultural document regarding the nature and importance of cinema. Should.

Sadly, the end result of the film, Great Directors, is a fluff film about people who don’t make fluff films. You know how sometimes you fall in love with a movie and are delighted to see that among the special features on the DVD is an interview with the director, but then when you watch the interview it is only five to ten minutes long, and doesn’t even scratch the surface? Great Directors is like a bunch of those smashed together to no real end and with no underlying theme or thesis. The film is 86 minutes long and features ten different filmmakers, all with long, illustrious careers—if you extract time taken up by the credits, this works out to an average of about eight minutes per director.

The great directors in question are all great (the list: Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, David Lynch, Agnès Varda, Ken Loach, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, John Sayles, Richard Linklater, and Liliana Cavani), but they are more limited in their purview than the film would have you believe. Early on in the film Ismailos, who does some narration, says that she selected filmmakers from all over the world, but really, the ten filmmakers represent a total of four countries. What? All either American or European, too; where are the South American filmmakers, the African filmmakers, the Australian filmmakers, or the filmmakers from anywhere in Asia? Additionally glaring is the disparity in screen time between these ten directors—Lynch, Breillat and Bertolucci get quite a bit of screen time (good, too, as Lynch is easily the most interesting interviewee in the film), and Sayles, Linklater and Cavani really get the short end of the stick, with what I would guess is less than five minutes apiece. The structure of the film indicates that Ismailos was only granted one interview with each director, and probably a lot of these interviews were very short and not very fruitful.

I hate to say it, but this is something I think would have been done better on television: the nature of the film begs for more time with each director and a closer look at each of their careers, and that’s just not something that can be done in under ten minutes per. Maybe an hour or two each, watched as part of a series, would be a lot more thorough and respectful to those involved. As it stands, even if you like the directors features herein (which you should), there is no real reason to see this film. Just buy their DVDs and watch the special features; you’ll get a lot more of what you’re looking for—especially if the director has one or more films released by the Criterion Collection. | Pete Timmermann

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