'Directors' an engaging, if flawed, encounter with auteurs 

“Great Directors” isn’t an impressively made documentary. It suffers from rocky steerage, superficial interviewing, and a title that overbills the actual deal rather outrageously. But its subjects — an assortment of, well, noteworthy directors — have interesting things to say.

Angela Ismailos, making her directorial debut, has interviewed 10 of her favorite filmmakers on topics that include their influences, their careers, and how politics shape their work. Combining this discourse with archival footage, she has crafted a rough but earnest weaving of artist profile and personal tribute.

While it is hard not to dispute what Ismailos deems pantheonic or question why only Americans and Europeans are represented, the featured directors are certainly significant talents, and good talkers.

Bernardo Bertolucci cites Pier Paolo Pasolini as an inspiration and recalls making “Last Tango in Paris.” Pleasure was a “fantastic thing to communicate to the audience,” he says.

David Lynch talks about “Eraserhead” (“My most spiritual film”), his Mel Brooks-produced “The Elephant Man,” and the importance of final cut privilege.

Catherine Breillat, articulate despite the likelihood that she’ll roll viewer eyes when proclaiming herself a “granddaughter of Bergman,” says that being critically reviled early in her career helped fortify her.

Todd Haines details his admiration for Rainer Werner Fassbinder and their shared appreciation of the melodramas of Douglas Sirk.

Stephen Frears and Ken Loach recall the pre-Thatcher BBC, a vital showcase for gritty social dramas. Agnes Varda gracefully philosophizes on human creativity. Richard Linklater expresses affection for his top flop, “The Newton Boys.”

John Sayles, discussing how Hollywood dilutes and distorts historical truth (he has entertainingly strong words for the Mel Gibson vehicle “The Patriot”), and Liliana Cavani, whose “The Night Porter” Ismailos references, complete the slate.

Film nuts will find lots of cinematic candy and a few golden tidbits in this movie, and to that extent, it’s ticket-worthy.

Unfortunately, however, Ismailos doesn’t demonstrate that she, herself, is much of a director, and her shortcomings severely mar her film.

Ismailos presents no solid picture of her subjects’ artistic visions. Her interview questions are shallow. Early on, she suggests that her film will be a self-discovery journey. She doesn’t follow up on this or make clear the nature of her role, on either side of the camera. She inserts arty, distracting reaction shots of herself looking glamorous and contemplative.

As for the film clips that complement the interviews, some are frustrating (for Linklater’s segments, Ismailos chooses “SubUrbia” over “Before Sunset”), and some nicely highlight underseen gems (Loach’s “Raining Stones”). To her credit, Ismailos remains focused on the art of her subjects and doesn’t get caught up in their commercial success.


Great Directors

Two and a half stars

With David Lynch, Agnes Varda, Catherine Breillat, Bernardo Bertolucci, Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, John Sayles, Liliana Cavani
Written and directed by Angela Ismailos
Not rated
Running time 1 hour 26 minutes

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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