I enjoyed and admired Angela Ismailos‘ Great Directors when I saw it at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. A concise and well-shot personal tribute doc about Bernardo Bertolucci, Agnes Varda, Stephen Frears, Todd Haynes, David Lynch, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach and John Sayles, it’s clearly an intelligent and nourishing tutorial — a Socratic inquiry about what matters and what doesn’t when it comes to making lasting films.
I said in my initial write-up that it’s “also about Ismailos’ golden blonde hair — a steady presence from start to finish.”
And yet, smart and agreeably illuminating as it is, I couldn’t at the same time honestly call Great Directors absolutely essential viewing. It’s not what I would call an especially novel or unusual doc, and the bottom line is that there’s no burning reason for it being a film except that Ismailos got to the filmmakers and put it together. Which is fine.
During last May’s showing I kept asking myself “who exactly is Ismailos, who funded the doc, how did she come to know these filmmakers and persuade them to sit down?,” etc.
Five years ago artnet.com described her as an “author and socialite.” I’ve also found a couple of shots of her at some lah-lah lawn parties in the Hamptons. That’s obviously not a crime, but at the same time…why her? And why me, for that matter? Why, I mean, am I writing about her film? Obviously because I was invited to see it, and because I liked it, and because I was invited to the after-party on a yacht in the Cannes marina (which I couldn’t attend). I guess I’m feeling a certain class-based resentment on some level. I’d like to think I do more than eat grass when it’s put before me, but the more I thought about it, the more this film made me feel…I don’t know exactly. I realize I’m not quite getting the thought out.
No disrespect intended, but I would be more interested in a doc about major directors by LexG than Ismailos. I just get the feeling that she socialized and blue-chipped her way into this project while LexG, suffering as he does on a nightly basis in the San Fernando Valley, has more of a blood-sweat-and-tears investment in transcendent films — he needs them like Gasim in Lawrence of Arabia needs water as he treks across the Nefud desert. Mailos, obviously bright and educated, could be the sensitive and concerned wife (or daughter) of a British officer based in Cairo who wants to make a film about the Arab uprising. Which is fine and good, admirable even, except for a certain vitality or hunger or need that only guys like Gasim have. That’s fair to say, I think.
Great Directors had its official premiere at the Venice Film Festival last September, and six months later Mark Urman‘s Paladin Films picked it up for distribution. It will open limited on 7.2.10.
Here’s a May 2009 flipcam interview with Ismailos by Anne Thompson, who was with Variety at the time: