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Time Out New York Project: Issue #770, July 1–7, 2010
Dir. Angela Ismailos. 2009. N/R. 86mins. Documentary.
Ask any cinephile to list their favorite directors, and you’re sure to get a few head-scratchers among the expected names. Angela Ismailos’s slight but pleasant talking-heads doc features ten such living “greats” discussing their work and profession. Great Directors unapologetically elevates a few highly subjective choices, like Richard Linklater and Stephen Frears, to the canonized company of Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch and Agnès Varda. (Catherine Breillat, Liliana Cavani, Todd Haynes, Ken Loach and John Sayles round out the hallowed lineup.) Ismailos offers no justifications beyond a brief prefatory statement that each of these filmmakers is dear to her. The pantheon is always malleable based on who’s doing the talking, so it’s fortunate that Ismailos is a compelling and intelligent onscreen interviewer, even if her documentary ultimately skews toward a Film School 101 overview.
There’s only so much that ten people can say in the course of a globe-trotting hour-and-a-half jam session. Some, like Cavani and Sayles, appear for about a minute and barely register, while others, like Bertolucci and Haynes, are overshadowed by the predecessors they cite, starry-eyed, as influences. Ismailos gets a good rhythm going in the middle section, cutting elegantly between observations as if everyone were speaking as part of a single consciousness. She also highlights several outré choices among the filmographies: Lynch’s criminally neglected Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me shares ample space with his accepted masterpiece Blue Velvet. And clips from Loach’s ’80s social documents, and others from early Breillat provocations like A Real Young Girl and Nocturnal Uproar, are enticing even to those in the know thanks to the no-movie-left-behind spirit with which Ismailos approaches them. Her heart’s in the right place, but her subjects’ ruminations demand a much larger canvas.—Keith Uhlich