Film Schools and the Manifesto

Curator's Note

This post seeks to explore the artists manifesto as a site of convergence for aspiring filmmakers, noting the critical synthesis of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ that is routinely present in the manifesto format. Hanna raises the stakes regarding the importance of the form: ‘Do manifestos bring about change? Yes – by presenting alternative visions, and in some cases outlining concrete actions. By making it clear that the status quo is not good, it’s insufferable, intolerable, ridiculous. Manifestos are the first stop for visionaries.’ (The Manifesto Handbook, 2019: 12). Who better to provoke this change than filmmaking students, caught at once between aspirations and industry, institution and family – a once in a lifetime (?) opportunity to experiment with the filmic medium as they learn their craft.

In an educational context, the opportunity for students afforded by the use of the manifesto format is to depart, if only briefly, from the ‘industrial imperative’ (Petrie and Stoneman, Educating Film-makers, 2014: 42) that is commonplace on most film and media production undergraduate degrees, and in many film schools too. Here in the realm of the manifesto, film is reclaimed as an art form, a medium of ideas, politics and ideology. And this is where it is at its most powerful. This power is especially seen in attempting to unite diverse students in a common practice, a regular difficulty encountered by staff teaching group-based creative disciplines like filmmaking. If students are thinking bigger than the film itself, beyond just the making of “content” and instead towards what that film or the story told might enable in others, then it becomes easier to bring together disparate students.

Contrary to a discourse which claims DOGME ’95 as the only filmmaking manifesto of note, there is in fact a rich history of filmmakers and collectives who have utilised the format. Introducing his seven-hundred-page tome Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures, Mackenzie claims that film ‘manifestos were most often texts of the moment. Intrinsically tied not only to the cinema, but the immediate world surrounding the authors’ (2015: 9).

The manifesto is enjoying a renaissance, not least as a suggested educational activity by The Precarious Workers Brigade in their publication Training for Exploitation (2017) where, like Mackenzie above, they see the composition of a manifesto as an essential tool in engaging creative practitioners with issues in the wider working world. In the clip here (watch until about 01:28:22), from the film Manifesto (Rosefeldt, 2015) we find Cate Blanchett playing a school teacher, and the dialogue is a reminder that filmmaking has always been a part of the art manifesto discourse. Piecing together lines from Jim Jarmusch, Werner Herzog and, of course, DOGME ’95. Eschewing the adage that one should “steal like an artist”, Blanchett challenges her class, via Jarmusch: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.” In this context, there is critical work going on to engage the filmic medium with its radical and artistic traditions, and nowhere is the work more important than in a film school education where students have the time, space and resources to engage with these bigger ideas.


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