Waiting For Ishtar

“Waiting For Ishtar” is the name of a documentary feature currently in production from first-time filmmakers John Mitchell and Jonathan Crombie. The “Isthar” in the title refers to writer/director Elaine May’s much-maligned 1987 comedy, starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty.


The night of his 39th birthday, Toronto comedy writer/performer and unabashed “Ishtar” fan, John Mitchell was challenged by a newspaper editor to write an article proclaiming and explaining his love for the movie. With a genuine and pathetic sense of glee, Mitchell began his assignment by taking a trip to the public library to put a hold on “Ishtar”. Returning two weeks later to find out why the movie had not arrived, Mitchell was surprised to discover that he was #34 on a list of #47 library members all waiting to borrow “Ishtar”. Realizing that it would take eight and a half months to get his copy, Mitchell began to wonder who else would be willing to wait that long (and longer) to see what critic Roger Ebert called: “A truly dreadful film”. The article quickly turned into the idea for a documentary, to find and interview the 46 other Toronto Public Library members “Waiting For Ishtar”.

Waiting For Ishtar:

What began as a small, home-made movie has grown in scale. This concept has grabbed the attention of writer/director, Elaine May, and former head of production for Columbia Pictures, Julian Schlossberg. Original “Ishtar” cast members, Charles Grodin and Carol Kane have already been interviewed, and later it is planned that others from the original production will be participating. Filmmakers, Mitchell and Crombie have shot over 40 hours of footage and conducted interviews with dozens of subjects: film critics, songwriters, Ishtar fans, writers and directors, including well-known Canadian filmmaker, Don McKellar.

“Waiting For Ishtar” follows John Mitchell as he tries to negotiate his way through the puzzling bureaucracy of a privacy-obsessed public library system, while simaltaneously examining the fate of “The most underestimated commercial movie of 1987” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader). Part detective search, part impossible quest, “Waiting For Ishtar” takes a humourous look at a struggling musical comedy writer’s obsession with a movie about two struggling songwriters.


10 thoughts on “Waiting For Ishtar

  1. I love this movie. I screen it frequently for friends. People go into the experience expecting to have fun mocking it, but invariably end up laughing their asses off, then asking, in shocked tones, “Why did this bomb!? It’s hilarious!”

  2. So, I guess now someone will need to make a documentary titled “Waiting for ‘Waiting for Ishtar'” since I’m sure that, like me, there is now a growing list of folks waiting for “Waiting for Ishtar.” That’s a lot of damn waiting.

  3. Is this still in the works? I saw this movie in college with a roommate who shared my passion for and lack of musical talent, and we immediately identified with and loved this movie. I would love to see a DVD version come out, this documentary, or anything else new regarding this movie. Perhaps the documentary could be packaged with the American DVD release and a soundtrack.

  4. I’ve never seen Ishtar, but now it’s on my list of things to see… Thank you for this, it sounds funny and original! Especially knowing what I know of the TPL system…
    I found this blurb on Wikipedia from Gary Larson’s The Complete Far Side in 2003, and if you haven’t seen it already, it may be worth interviewing him for the film: “In one of Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strips, captioned “Hell’s Video Store”, the entire store is stocked with nothing but copies of the movie Ishtar. Larson has apologized, saying “When I drew the above cartoon, I had not actually seen Ishtar. … Years later, I saw it on an airplane, and was stunned at what was happening to me: I was actually being entertained. Sure, maybe it’s not the greatest film ever made, but my cartoon was way off the mark. There are so many cartoons for which I should probably write an apology, but this is the only one which compels me to do so.”

  5. This sounds like a very interesting film. I worked with Elaine and Julian at Castle Hill Productions during the time she was making the movie. It was a very dramatic period. Right after the release she went into seclusion in Bali for a month, then resurfaced doing ghost projects for home video and television, including the pilot and episodes of the updated “Columbo” series.

  6. You mean Jonathan Crombie from Anne of Green Gables? (Gilbert). March2009-sounds like this project is dead. Why was it even made? No one under 35 has even heard of the original Ishtar! Totally irrelevant

  7. Have always loved this film! Just ran across this page today.Would love to help out! Am planning a screening of “ISHTAR” hopefully for next year for my screening series.

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