Sundance: Julian Rosefeldt on his incredible film "Manifesto"

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

"In my glorious isolation, I am illuminated by the marvelous incandescence of my electrically charged nerves." Cate Blanchett, Manifesto

Let’s be very clear... Manifesto is not a film in the way you may think of films. Manifesto is an art piece. Manifesto is a tour-de-force. Manifesto is an exploration and documentation of art and artists. 

Manifesto is the anti-film in a time in which we very much need an anti-film. In a world crammed to the brim with superhero movies and “fake news” and status updates, where nothing seems to be of grave importance, Manifesto finds itself gravely important. The trouble is, will it fall on deaf ears? 

Manifesto director Julian Rosefeldt Photo: Renate Brandt ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 2016

Manifesto director Julian Rosefeldt Photo: Renate Brandt ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 2016

“The problem seems to be,” director Julian Rosefeldt tells me from his cabin during the Sundance Film Festival, “that we artists, and writers, and filmmakers, and musicians find ourselves in a place where we are constantly talking to an audience that likes what we have to say.” 

Julian is soft-spoken. For a man in his 50’s, his face seems untouched by the natural progression of time, save for some lost hair and sunken eyes that make him appear more prophetic than aged. He talks in a near whisper and takes his time when answering my question - not through long, thoughtful pauses; but just by pacing his words. Like the slow, quiet hum of an appliance talking to itself inside an empty house. 

“They already agree.” Julian continues, “So if we are talking about all these social and political issues that are bothering us and we are only addressing an audience that agrees with whatever we have to say, that is a dilemma. My personal frustration comes in wondering how I might reach the audience that NEEDS to hear these things. That’s very difficult.”

After studying architecture in Munich and Barcelona, Julian began his career as a visual artist, creating elaborate and visually opulent film and video installations. Manifesto, in this sense, is no different.  

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

The film stars the magnificent Cate Blanchett, who plays 13 different characters - each of whom speak to the audience through a coalesced series of manifestos written by different important artists in history. These manifestos were collected and arranged by Julian himself. Manifesto first premiered as an art installation in Australia, Berlin and New York, showcasing each of Blanchett’s 13 characters on different screens that played simultaneously in large gallery spaces. Now, as a film meant for an audience all facing the same direction in a darkened theater, you are allowed to see each of her performances play back-to-back. 

Back in the cabin, Julian continues talking to me about how putting Manifesto in this format might make it easier to reach the kind of audience he was speaking about - an audience who doesn’t already agree with the things he is doing or saying...

“Having a theatrical version rather than an art installation and having a well-known, fantastic, Hollywood actress like Cate Blanchett might help to generate another type of audience - but it’s still an audience that is seeing and would be apt to seeing a very interesting but specific kind of film. The way to reach the kinds of people who think [with a very different world view] is much more difficult and takes much more time. More than a lifetime it often seems.” 

He’s right. Art oftentimes doesn’t feel as though it can move the needle too far forward until it’s well past the time of the artist’s existence. Which is why hearing these Manifesto’s is so powerful for all of us now. Not only are they still relevant, but the words inside these manifestos, written by artists who have had deep impacts on art and the world, many of which were written at a young time in the artist’s life, might be even more relevant today than at the time of their birth. 

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

I didn’t have the chance to ask Julian about his personal manifesto or if he had even written one as a younger artist, but before I left the cabin to go back into the snow covered mountains, I did ask him what has changed for him as an artist. Now that he has been affected by hearing all these manifestos; Now that he’s heard Jim Jarmusch tell us all that “Nothing is Original” and therefore it doesn’t matter where you steal from. Now that he understands Dadaism and Conceptualism and all the other "isms" better than he did at a younger age, what effect has this had on his art or himself? Did art have the ability to change him? 

“Everything we create is echoing the things that we have seen, felt and read ourselves. Even what I am saying now I might feel as though it is an original idea, but it’s most likely just a rethinking or reshaping or rearranging of things I have already experienced. Knowing that has helped me. I remember as a younger artist I was very much more ‘severe’ regarding my own ideas. I was judgmental and felt as though I had to know why I would choose to do everything I did. I was always able to explain every little detail of my work - this means this, that means that. 

Getting older and more at ease, I now understand that it’s in these moments that I am unclear about exactly what something means that the magic unfolds and the viewer can find his or her own space to interpret the work. These days I trust my unconscious and things that are hard to explain or defend. I am beginning to realize that I just want to get the things in my mind out because I want to see them- and the things inside a persons mind aren’t always logical or explainable. That’s the beauty of getting older -you stop pretending to be secure.”

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

Cate Blanchett in Manifesto ©Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst 201

Which is in fact what these manifestos oftentimes prove to be. A young artist’s cacophony of ideas thrown onto a page in the hopes of helping them find security during a somewhat unstable time in their existence. Before they knew how to throw their hands up and ignore the need to understand why they were doing what they were doing. Before they knew that all they were, and that all anyone will ever be is a “square which becomes blobby”.

“No more painters. No more writers. No more musicians. No more sculptures. No more religions. No more republicans. No more royalists. No more imperialists. No more anarchists. No more socialists. No more bolsheviks. No more politicians. No more proletarians. No more democrats. No more bourgeois. No more aristocrats. No more armies. No more police. No more fatherlands. No more anything. No more anything. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” - Cate Blanchett, Manifesto

This film is for: People who like art. People who hate art.