"The problem is not to make political films but to make films politically." -- Jean-Luc Godard
Edited down to thirty minutes, Cine Manifest would make an informative extra on the long-overdue, and still unannounced DVD release of John Hanson and Rob Nilsson's Northern Lights (1978), but as a 75-minute standalone documentary it's lazily-made navel gazing that doesn't have much to offer an audience not already convinced of the importance of its subject.
In 1972, seven idealistic young San Franciscans formed a filmmakers' collective to make Marxist consciousness-raising films for working-class audiences. Though it tore itself apart three years later, while it lasted Cine Manifest created several independent shorts and two feature-length films: Over-Under, Sideways-Down, a factory picture evocative of the independent films of John Cassavetes, and the internationally-acclaimed docudrama Northern Lights, about the radical agrarian Non-Partisan League of turn-of-the-century North Dakota.
Thirty years later, Cine Manifest alum Judy Irola visited her six old comrades to reminisce. Armed with a handheld video camera, she interviewed all of them, though all but two appeared alone. The interview footage, together with clips from the collective's films and some old photographs and letters, form the entirety of the material assembled for Cine Manifest.
Cine Manifest circa 1973
30 Years Later
Through her conversations with fellow Cine Manifest alumni John Hanson, Rob Nilsson, Stephen Lighthill, Steve Wax, Gene Corr and Peter Gessner, Irola is able to paint a portrait of what the collective hoped to accomplish, a sense of the work they created, the group dynamics that undermined their collaboration, and the events that triggered the collective's dissolution. However, by not interviewing anyone outside the group, she fails to explore whether Cine Manifest made any impact on other filmmakers, radicals, or working-class audiences. Most disappointingly, she gives short shrift to what impact Cine Manifest had on the careers, politics, or personal lives of her old comrades or herself following the group's dissolution.
Shot on DV, the letterboxed image (which appears to be 1.66:1) looks very soft, with noticeable edge enhancement, and slightly washed-out colors.
The 2.0 audio provides little or no differentiation between channels, but audio levels are steady and free from dropouts, and thus the audio is acceptable for this dialogue-driven documentary.
No subtitles are available on this release.
Extras include 70-minutes of horrendous shorts made to celebrate birthdays within Cine Manifest, and likely never intended for a wider audience. Also included is a filmmaker biography, and trailers for four other Docudrama DVD releases, though not one for this film.
While watching Cine Manifest, I was struck by how much it reminded me of another 2006 documentary, Jonathan Berman's Commune, about another group of young radicals living and working communally in northern California during this time. What makes Commune superior to Cine Manifest though is that Berman addresses what became of the young idealists after they moved on; Judy Irola does not.
If you're already a fan of the work of these filmmakers, the reminiscences of Irola and her old comrades may make Cine Manifest worth renting, but the uninitiated can skip this one.