The art of film: without it, you’d be looking at a blank page right now. For many there is no greater joy than sitting in a dark room for two hours watching incredible stories with vivid characters projected on to a silver screen. Unfortunately, however, we live in a world where a hefty percentage of films deserve a release on the rack at the local gas station instead of at the cineplex. Because of this it becomes all the more important that we appreciate those filmmakers that have a true vision, who bring real ideas and messages to the movies. This is what Angela Ismailos sets out to do in her documentary Great Directors.
One by one, Ismailos travels around the world to interview some of the most inventive people in film industry. Featuring talent such as David Lynch, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears, Catherine Breillat, Agnès Varda and Richard Linklater, Ismailos digs in to discover what makes these minds able to produce such high quality works of art. As well as showing clips from both early and later films, Ismailos demonstrates both admiration of the filmmakers’ work and an appetite for understanding.
What works best for this film is its simplicity. While any documentaries spread themselves thin by trying to go too far in too many directions, Ismailos keeps it uncomplicated and targets exactly what she wants to know. Each of the subjects discuss how they broke into the industry, the process that went into making their films and their personal philosophy about what their work means, both to them and the audience. Though the film features 10 interviews with directors who all have different perspectives, histories and methods, the pieces are woven together perfectly, never losing the audience and keeping them engaged.
The biggest mystery behind the film is how Ismailos chose her subjects. Though she has certainly chosen some terrific directors as subjects, there are some glaring omissions. Whether they were unavailable or the director was trying to avoid more mainstream filmmakers, names like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola are noticeably absent, only briefly mentioned in spots before moving on. Without trying to sound insulting, how does the director of the Bad News Bears remake get more screen-time than the man who brought us Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull in a film about great directors?
The film is also fairly inaccessible to all but cinephiles and filmmakers; the Average Joe would be completely lost while watching this and likely wouldn’t even be familiar with most of the names. I certainly wouldn’t suggest the inclusion of mainstream pop directors like Michael Bay, but the film would have done itself a great service if it had gone deeper not only into the work of the individual directors, but also the time periods in which they worked and the history of the movements they were a part of.
Although I’m sure many of you out there would love to wake up tomorrow and get the inspiration to create something on the level of Eraserhead, that kind of talent is limited to a very small group of people. But while the greatest directors of all time are tied together by incredible bodies of work, they are all individual machines with different ideas of about making film. Do you make films for an audience? Is art meant to reflect the society or the other way around? Can film have an effect on the world at large? Each of the subjects in Great Directors has something to say on these matters and, if it’s something that interests you going in, the documentary will not disappoint.