Day 6: Manifesto Demands 13 Different Characters from Cate Blanchett

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017
Sundance Institute is dispatching its writers to daily screenings and events to capture the 10 days of festivities during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Check back each morning for roundups from the previous day's events.


In her latest film, Cate Blanchett plays a choreographer. And also a puppeteer. And also a schoolteacher, a scientist, a newscaster, a punk rocker, a day trader — and shall we go on? Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto demands 13 different parts from virtuoso Blanchett, who takes on different accents, costumes, and makeup for each. It’s a remarkable feat of acting, but equally remarkable is the text that she’s serving. Each of the 13 characters represents and recites a distinct and canny collage of 20th-century art manifestos, from pop art to Fluxus, Dadaism to film, and each episode is set against a unique and provocative Berlin environment. After appearing as an art installation, most recently at the Armory in New York City, Rosefeldt refashioned the project as a feature film, which debuted at the Festival on Monday afternoon at the Library Theatre.

“I didn’t cast Cate Blanchett for this project,” Rosefeldt said during the post-screening Q&A. “We ran into each other six years ago at an art opening of my work, and we started to talk. She said, ‘Why don’t we do something together?’ You can imagine my reaction. It took me another two and a half years until we finally started to talk about Manifesto. The only thing I told Cate is that she would do many characters. We bargained — she said, ‘Can we do six or seven?’ And I said, ‘Can you do twenty?’ We ended up with thirteen. We had two weeks to shoot this — it was a fantastic trip. And now I believe she could do Mike Tyson.”

Rosefeldt spoke of the verve and passion of the manifestos chosen for the script and offered up an interesting context for texts from artists and thinkers such as John Reed, Dziga Vertov, Paul Eluard, André Breton, and Lars von Trier. “I’m an artist myself, and I know that what we say, we don’t always mean it that seriously,” he said. “Keep in mind that these texts were written when the artists had hardly left their parents’ house — they were 21, 22. And at that time of your life you’re very insecure. You’re trying to tell yourself who you are and what you stand for. And because you’re insecure you shout very loudly, and with all this anger. You pretend to have a lot of security but you actually don’t.”

The director talked about the various ways in which he matched text with character and location. Sometimes it was about finding a contemporary analogue — the hyperspeed of online trading with futurism, for example. And sometimes it was pairing opposites, with a traditional nuclear family reciting Claes Oldenburg’s funny and profane “I Am for an Art …” at dinnertime prayer. “You put two elements together that aren’t necessarily friends and then you see what the chemistry does,” he said. Rosefeldt admitted that of all of the texts, he felt most closely aligned with Jim Jarmusch’s ironically titled “Golden Rules of Filmmaking.” Jarmusch’s slogan “Nothing Is Original,” as well as the notion that all art borrows from other art, is a useful guide to “the basic spirit of the entire thing,” he said of Manifesto, “and of life itself.”

The New Radical: Exploring the World of Internet Anarchists

As could be expected, one of the most incendiary films of the Festival made for a fascinating piece of post-screening theater. U.S. Documentary Competition candidate The New Radical surveys a new generation of internet vanguards, particularly the savvy, now-28 year-old provocateur Cody Wilson, notorious for making plans for “The Liberator” 3D printable gun available for download, as well as for co-founding Dark Wallet, a bank-skirting Bitcoin app that allows users to make transactions out of sight.

After the screening, director Adam Bhala Lough was joined by co-editor Alex Lee Moyer and Cody Wilson himself, who effortlessly seized the spotlight and expounded upon views of the internet that alternated between idealistic and apocalyptic. After bizarrely fielding questions about his favorite books and recommended places to visit in the Washington, D.C., area, he was finally outright asked what he’s trying to accomplish with his government-goading libertarian initiatives.

“With 3D-printed guns, we really believe that the internet means that one day you’re going to be able to download a gun,” he said. “It was like a proof of concept. So the materials are inadequate — so what? Give us a little time. I never wanted to be just the guy that put the gun online; I just believe in this alternative method of politics.

I believe that in order to create right now we must destroy.”

Lough said it’s a question he posed many, many times throughout the making of the film. “What’s the end goal? They were never able to succinctly illustrate it for me,” he said, which he attributed to the youth of Wilson and his associates. “When we started, Cody was like 24. He’s still figuring his shit out. So to a certain degree, he created this monster, The Liberator specifically, and had to figure out along the way, what is the goal?”

Wilson was asked a series of hypothetical questions, such as his comfort with disseminating nuclear plans and making guns downloadable for children, each resulting in a kind of Socratic exchange regarding access, freedom, and inevitability.

“Isn’t it the purpose of government to protect its citizens?” one woman from the audience asked.

“I think the purpose of this government is to secure the liberties of those governed,” Wilson responded.

“That sounds the same to me,” the woman said.

“We can disagree,” he said.

“You have to stick to your principles,” Lough said. “Freedom of information, free speech, is so vital that in this case, no matter how ugly it sounds — and I don’t want my kids going onto the Internet printing guns, and I won’t let them — but I still think we need the right to be able to make those choices for ourselves. I’ll stand by that, and I stood by that in making this film.”