In a number of past reviews, I’ve mentioned my fascination with documentaries that retell or revisit specific “moments” from the 1960s and ’70s, including The Weather Underground, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Inside Deep Throat, and Berkeley in the Sixties. While Weather and Guerrilla explore some of the more seductive elements of political revolution, all of the films seem to mix nostalgia for an era rich with idealism and political possibilities with some degree of reassessment, and in some cases regret.
Cine Manifest, a documentary about a film collective of the same name by Judy Irola (available from Docurama Films), revisits some of this ground by looking back at the attempts of a small group of filmmakers to make small, independent films that made a difference politically. Irola, who was the only female member of Cine Manifest, structures the film around interviews with all of the members of group, addressing the conflicts between personal ambitions and group dynamics. Cine Manifest structured themselves around basic Marxist principles, with the filmmakers contributing to a general pool for living expenses while seeking out funding for their films, one of which, Northern Lights, won the 1979 Camera D’Or at Cannes. Their struggles to make movies (and often over how to make them) remain relevant as filmmakers seek to invent new film distribution and exhibition formats and illuminate another piece of the long history of independent filmmaking and its connection to political idealism. It also addresses how the politics of the 1960s and ’70s were so deeply shaped by the issues of gender and social class. Irola, for example, describes the tension she felt between her fascination with the feminist filmmaking movement of the 1970s and her loyalties to Cine Manifest.
Cine Manifest has a number of strengths, namely Irola’s ability to draw out relatively compelling interviews, and the film uses animation well to underscore the group’s propensity to produce massive, detailed, and certainly overwrought manifestos, memos, and mission statements that would be discussed at length. But, as usual, the real interest, for me, was the use of archival footage–essentially home movies–of the collective’s “birthday movies,” many of which are included as extras on the DVD. I’ll admit that I knew little about Cine Manifest before watching the documentary, and I sometimes found myself reacting with slight indifference towards the subjects of the film, something that could have been remedied by a slightly stronger narrative. Still, the film is a solid contribution to understanding not only the broader histories of independent filmmaking and 1970s politics but also the narrower personal reflections and reassessments of those histories.