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 “Ishtar” in the title refers to writer/director Elaine May’s much-maligned 1987 comedy, starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty.

The backstory:

The night of his 39th birthday, unabashed “Ishtar” fan and Toronto comedy writer/performer, John Mitchell, was challenged by a newspaper editor to write an article proclaiming and explaining his love for the movie. It was with a genuine and pathetic sense of glee that Mr. Mitchell began the assignment by taking a trip to the local library to put a hold on “Ishtar”. Returning two weeks later to find out why the movie had not arrived, Mr. Mitchell was surprised to discover that he was #34 on a list of #47 library patrons all waiting to borrow “Ishtar”. Realizing that it would take eight and a half months to get his copy, Mitchell wondered who else would be willing to wait that long (and longer) to see a what critic Roger Ebert called: “a truly dreadful film”. The article quickly turned into the idea for a documentary: to track down 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. The project has attracted the attention of “Ishtar” writer/director Elaine May and former head of production for Columbia Pictures, Julian Schlossberg. Original “Ishtar” cast members, Charles Grodin and Carol Kane have been interviewed, and later it is planned that others from the original production will take part. To date, filmmakers Mitchell and Crombie have shot over 40 hours of footage and conducted interviews with dozens of subjects: film critics, writers, directors, and well-known personalities, including Canadian filmmaker, Don McKellar.

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

6 thoughts on “Waiting For Ishtar

  1. Hi,
    I am not one of the 47. (There is a movie called the 47 Ronin, by the way.)
    As I told the vox box this morning, the scene with the blind camel alone was worth the price of admission.
    Perhaps it was so panned because people were expecting greatness from Elaine May after The Heartbreak Kid like from Micael Cimino after The Deer Hunter which was unbelievable, the Russian Roulette and regrettable deer hunting notwithstanding.
    Keep me posted about the film’s release. Good luck.

  2. Dear Ms. Teitel,

    I’m not sure what people were expecting; however, I think you are correct that expectations were high. It really is a small picture in many ways so perhaps the big budget treatment confused some of the critics. I like all of Elaine May’s movies (“Ishtar” included) and I wish that she would direct another one.

    Feel free to check this site from time to time as we will update the progress of our movie and eventually have some video clips for people to look at.

    Thanks for your comments and for wishing us luck.

  3. Any new updates on Waiting for Ishtar? The last few postings seem to be from a few years ago. I’ve checked this site from time to time hoping to hear new news. I’m in New York and so blatantly was not on the library list. I’m worried this came out in Canada and not here and I missed it.

    For me the scene that always gets me is the smuck/schmuck scene. I actually did a workshop a couple of years ago and was asked to bring a scene from my favorite movie in. I took that scene. Everyone was howling when it got read and asked me where I got it. When I told them Ishtar, they were shacked and asked if I had a DVD they could borrow. Guess what that answer was.

    Anyhow, good luck, and if you could post any little snippets, that would be awesome.

  4. Now that the dvd is supposed to be released in the US, I hope the momentum is there to propel Waiting for Ishtar as well.
    It’s time!!

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