Do you follow the work of certain film directors? Amidst the tsunami of cinema that comes to us, what makes us connect intimately to particular films? Why does the vision of a specific director move us deeply and haunt us long after we leave the theatre or switch off the DVD? Please tell me about your favourite directors and films.

I went on a bit of a film feast last month. I had bought a movie card for the local repertory cinema in October 2009, but had had no time to use it. As the expiry date drew near, I decided to get my money’s worth. And get my money’s worth I did, watching Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall flirt in The Big Sleep. (This was a very particular smart-mouth flirting style from 1940s Hollywood). As they stylishly traded ripostes, the murders kept comin’, and the strangely familiar world of deadly dames, sharp shooting private dicks and desperate characters with mysterious intent, unfolded amid pouring rain and beautifully lit urban nightscapes. Classic Film Noir wrapped itself around me like a boa constrictor!

I marvelled at the mastery, the sure touch, of director Howard Hawks who managed to pull in and entertain a sceptical viewer like myself, who is not even a Noir fan. (A friend had suggested the film.)

Next, feeling not unlike Alice in the proverbial Wonderland, I fell into the surreal universe of Joseph K., who wakes up one morning to find cops searching his room. They tell him he’s on trial, but he never finds out for what. Ouch! The Trial is a masterpiece – the legendary Orson Welles filming the work of the even more monumental Franz Kafka. The film, which is supposed to follow the (il)logic of a nightmare, has an incredibly claustrophobic quality. From the early, strangely angled shots inside Joseph K’s room and boarding house, “through a city composed of decaying industrial buildings, old factories, shady tenements, and empty streets,” through long corridors between bookcases stuffed with untidy files, ostentatious public buildings with weird goings on and quirkily furnished private mansions, the feeling of being confined and trapped never leaves you for a moment.

And that is the point. Kafka found social conventions (and not just the workings of bureaucracy) strange and baffling. In The Trial he created an ultimately incomprehensible world, which Welles rendered into harrowing flesh.

This is perhaps what makes for compelling cinema? It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Great directors seem to spin entire solar systems into being. They draw you in and hold you there, captive. They make you squirm, but you want to stay, to have that transformative and ultimately satisfying experience of transcending your own life and entering, really entering, someone else’s world.

I have admired directors ever since I first started to have a clue about what went into making movies. A director works with producers, scriptwriters, a camera crew, actors, set and costume designers, editors, music composers and a host of other professionals. What a circus! A great director orchestrates the talents and temperaments of all these diverse people to craft an unforgettable movie that bears his or her individual stamp. Some directors mastered more than one of these difficult skills. Satyajit Ray for instance wrote the original stories and screenplays, composed music, designed the sets, costumes and even the publicity posters, for his films. Whew!

I was a journalist in Bombay in my early 20s when a good friend got involved with movie making. I remember her telling me about the sheer excitement and thrilling intensity of it all. And how, late at night, after the film crew wrapped up an exhausting shoot, they would go out drinking, still talking about the movie.

It is fitting that my story ends with a film called Great Directors. Angela Ismailos’ documentary by that name, which features nine directors, was the last movie I saw. OK there was a less successful Greek film in between. It’s good to see less-good films; makes you really appreciate the others!

Ismailos chose those particular directors because they were true to their vision of filmmaking. Resisting commercialization, they made uncompromising films. She interviewed Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch, Liliana Cavani, Stephen Frears, Agnes Varda, Ken Loach, Todd Haynes, Catherine Breillat, Richard Linklater and John Sayles, over many days. This complex creation is about the motivations, identities, work, personalities, dilemmas and admirable courage of these directors. I did not know some of them at all, others I knew less well, but the movie was worth watching all the same. Ismailos manages to contextualize their work and even showcases some of their inspirations – Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and others. All this in 90 minutes.

Vive le cinema, vive the magicians behind the movies!