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The Doc Days of Summer: “Great Directors”

The Doc Days of Summer: “Great Directors” (photo)

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Angela Ismailos probably wasn’t intending herself to be included when she gave her film the simple title, “Great Directors,” but when the film played to a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival last year, Ismailos figured they were just applauding for the ten internationally renowned auteurs she profiles.

“Todd Haynes was like ‘get up!'” laughed Ismailos, who eventually realized it was the only thing that would stem the five-minute-and-counting ovation. “Marco Müller, the director of Venice told me, ‘I’ve never seen an audience touched so much by a documentary.’ I guess it reminds people what all good cinema used to be.”

Indeed, “Great Directors” will likely have movie lovers running to their local video stores and Netflix queues to discover or revisit the work of the ten directors Ismailos gathered for her documentary, a celebrated group that includes Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Stephen Frears, Agnès Varda, Ken Loach, Liliana Cavani, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater and John Sayles. But the film is far from the rote dissertation of the directors’ greatest hits that one might imagine, instead benefitting from Ismailos’ curiosity as a burgeoning filmmaker and free-associating interrogator.

07012010_ToddHaynesGreatDirectors.jpgIsmailos was actually working on a fictional film of her own when she decided to take the research she was doing with screenings of French New Wave and Italian neorealist classics and channel it into a full-fledged “thesis on cinema.” That ability to shift gears effortlessly is one inherent to “Great Directors” as a whole.

The documentary flows freely between talk of cinema, of course, but also of politics (Frears notes the media had a very different relationship with politicians when he started, saying “[The BBC] encouraged you to misbehave”), class structure (“In America, there are classes and we don’t like to talk about them,” says Sayles) and sexuality (“Eroticism, I don’t know what that is,” says the always provocative Breillat).

Offering context for their work, “Great Directors” sees the ten directors discussing the experiences and influences that shaped them rather than anecdotes from their sets; Lynch, who ironically tells some of the film’s best inside production stories, warns Ismailos early in the film, “As soon as you make a film, people want you to talk about it. The film does the talking.”

In fact, Lynch was the last person to agree to be interviewed, but was won over by the same personalized letter-writing campaign that Ismailos used to persuade other filmmakers to be in the film, with a pitch steeped in her own love of Jean Cocteau, Tarkovsky and Renoir and focusing on the fact that she “wasn’t a journalist, I was a filmmaker and I didn’t have any specific questions.”

Some early reviews have taken Ismailos to task for including herself so prominently in “Great Directors,” with several noting her eye-catching flaxen locks as one of the film’s main characters. Yet one wonders whether anyone else could have gotten the same degree of openness from her subjects, including this bit from Lynch on the failure of “Dune,” which we have as an exclusive clip here:

“I think to face your failure as a human being and as an artist is very important,” said Ismailos, who also devotes significant screen time to Linklater’s “The Newton Boys” and many of the lesser-regarded works of the directors on hand.

Even of their triumphs, Ismailos catches Cavani saying her “Night Porter” that “We were shocked and even a little offended by its success.” Likewise, the usually reticent Frears speaks to the accomplishment of “My Beautiful Laundrette” as being ultimately being a failure since he envisioned it as an attack on Margaret Thatcher and its financial success led “[us] all to become small businessmen, which is what [Thatcher] wanted.”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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