Festivals, Reviews

IFFR 2021—The Reimagined Academy We Dream: Reflections on ‘Manifesto’

We had rules in school. Rules that don’t make sense. I had to follow them. Having a grade below 85 would remove you from the honors list. I didn’t graduate with honors even after reaching the required grade. It made me sad, I lost my self-esteem; everything went downhill. The worse thing: I’m not the only one who feels this in my school, in my country, in this world.

I transferred to another school for senior high hoping that I’ll get to reboot myself and pursue my passion for the Arts. I thought so. It’s a known state university here. Everything’s the same, even worse. Falling in line for documents would take you four to five hours. The line from the ground floor reaches the fifth floor. A lot of my professors, who are contractual, couldn’t attend classes as their salaries are delayed for six long months. 

I could write thousands of words just telling the struggles we had. What’s sad is people tend to romanticize those struggles; the long lines, masking them with resiliency. When you ask for what you deserve, they gaslight you, telling you that you are studying for free. You can’t complain about suffocating classrooms that caused many of my classmates to experience hyperventilation. We are exploited and deprived. It made me lose myself this time. It made us lose ourselves.

We can say that education here teaches us how to be a good employee, to shut up, to just follow, to not be critical, to stop dissent, to be a labor export to “first world” countries (or imperialists), to get rich, to get exploited, to settle for something that we don’t deserve in the first place. In short, to be a slave of capitalism, the system that perpetuates all these feudalistic and bureaucratic characteristics of the academy. 

Ane Hjort Guttu’s documentary-short Manifesto tells a different story. It documents a small art school turned department that deviates from the rules mandated by the university they are under in. They secretly create courses and policies refusing to follow the university’s bureaucratic administrative procedures. It’s everybody’s dream: Considerate professors. Pro-student policies. Supportive community. Enriching courses. 

I was dreaming of studying there as I’m watching it until I realized that it’s not real. This is purely fictional. The film is surreal not because of its style, but because of the world it shows us. It’s something that I wish is true. Utopic. 

*

Documentaries are expected to be objective. But is there such a thing as objective cinema, where the main medium is a camera? Is the camera objective when it shows only a portion of our world? You remove tons of footage at editing; the way you choose your subject, the politics involved. Is it even supposed to be objective?

If not, they are at least expected to show what is happening now: something that exists, tangible. But is that the only role of realism? To show the existing truth? When films have the power to influence, to change, why can’t we explore realist filmmaking to seek the truth we can have and deserve? Something that doesn’t rely on merely repeating events that happen in real life. Manifesto does this, carefully, without erasing the problematic truth that we have right now in academia. The film explores a different kind of realism. Manifesto goes beyond its job to portray reality. It shows us what kind of reality we can have. The film tackles the problematic truth to form a better one. 

The film serves as a microcosm of society. It relates current academic struggles with the oppressive-fascist system that we have. In Manifesto, the small institution was forced to merge with a university. Here we can compare the university with the big private corporations, the state, and landlords. The art school can be associated with the working class, deemed small, yet bigger in population. 

This is where the irony becomes overt. If the upper class are smaller in population, why do they hold most of the world’s wealth? Why do they have billions of money when there are people who don’t have a home to live in? Is it moral to be extremely rich when there are people whose basic needs cannot be even fulfilled? Why do these rich people teach us what to do? In the film, why do they set the rules for the students, the teachers? Why do they tell them what to do? What makes them believe that they can rule over them? 

Happily, that small art institution knows its worth. Even secretly, they manage to create a more inclusive reality. I’ll never forget that scene when the janitress of the institution is also passionate about what she’s doing. Being a janitress, she is someone who cleans, who serves the people. It is a valid dream, a legitimate profession. Yet in this capitalistic society, they are viewed as dumb and uneducated (by the corrupt and bureaucratic academy).

The abolishing of the administrative hierarchy in the university through subtle subversions, the cleaner being validated for what she does, and the neglection of the mandated policies all scream the same thing: equality. Guttu was able to reimagine a world based on love and passion, on the core of being human. To live. To do. The film rejected the idea of classic academia–elitist and gatekept. 

Today, studies, journals, and sources aren’t accessible to many. Piracy is one way to subvert; a criminal act. We can validate this with the line mentioned in the film: the only possible relationship to academia today is a criminal one. And that criminal thing is only criminal in the eyes of the oppressors. People who don’t welcome dissent and criticisms. Following the pattern that this film is a microcosm, we can also say that the way out of capitalism is a “criminal” one. 

Manifesto explores the possibilities of depicting reality through a film genre that is known to be fair. But there’s no such thing as fairness. As soon as a camera is used, it cuts a lot of things and the operator chooses what to show. Dumping footage is political. Choosing someone to appear in the film is political. The process of filmmaking is political. Making documentaries isn’t just telling the reality. Reality must be embedded with the truth. And the truth is what makes a film fair. 

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