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The true story behind the '70s Marxist film collective.
In 1972 San Francisco, seven idealistic young filmmakers decided they would start a "film collective" based on Marxist principles. They would live together and support each other, in the common goal of creating films that would promote the virtues of Socialism and the struggle of the working class. Using all their blind ambition and youthful naivety, they tried their best. Unfortunately, financial problems and philosophical differences tore them apart and, six years hence, the collective was no more. Thirty years later, Judy Irola, the only female member of the group, interviews the remaining six to get their impressions of what they did and how it impacted their lives.
If Cine Manifest had told its story in half an hour, it would have made a concise, interesting study of the fall of this group of idealists and easily fit as an extra on a DVD release of Northern Lights, the most successful film the collective made. Instead, it's an overlong look at how people can't let go of old grudges, even after three decades. Of the six directors interviewed (Irola is the questioner and occasional commenter), only two of them agree to sit together. Their story is a basic example of how these kinds of Marxist ideals, while sounding really sweet, don't work in a Capitalist world. They started the collective under the theory of the old Socialist maxim, "From each according to his ability, for each according to his need." This works great in theory, but a battle between the "haves" and the "have nots" is necessary in Marxism. For the workers to own the means of production (the ideal), they must eventually wage war with those who currently own it. In the case of Cine Manifest, the collective, they ran smoothly until they hit upon the major roadblocks for these kinds of communal work structures: success.
The start of their downfall coincided with their opportunity to make feature length films and, more importantly, the inclusion of financial backing. Now, even with all their big dreams of spreading the word to a larger audience than they ever could imagine, there was money at stake and deadlines to meet. People were given more power than others, our "haves" and "have nots" were born, and the battle began. The original director was pulled, after a vote of No Confidence by the collective, because of efficiency issues and problems staying on message. He left, demanded that people leave with him and, when they didn't, ran off in a huff, never to return. Though they had all their success during the tumultuous time, it couldn't last. That betrayal led to more, which led to the collective's eventual destruction.
For almost the entire running time, Irola focuses on these betrayals. Cine Manifest looks less like a documentary and more like a chance for the director to exorcise her demons, allowing others to vent, argue, and split hairs about three decades of old grudges which have no chance for resolution in this format. These discussions belong in a therapist's office, not a documentary. She virtually forgets to discuss the films they made, what they tried to prove, who they reached, or how this influenced their future work, in film and beyond it. She apparently prefers to pour salt in old wounds that will never heal. The one enjoyable moment was a story about the legendary director Nicholas Ray (Rebel without a Cause), strung out toward the end of his life, crashing on their editing room floor until they had to kick him out. That guy was a mess, but not nearly as much as this documentary is.
The disc from Docurama looks and sounds very good. The anamorphic widescreen image was shot on a digital handheld camera and has little eye to style, so it is limited in scope, but lacking any transfer errors. The sound is clear but, again, since it's strictly interviews, there is little to say. The extras are easily better than the feature. Four of the collective's short films are included. They are fun, not as pointed to the "message," and give a better sense of what was going on in the group than the documentary even dreams of.
If I wanted to hear a bunch of whining, I'd record myself speaking.
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