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.
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.
No subtitles are available on this release.
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.