‘Manifesto’ review: Disturbing found-footage document conjures up youth terror in Putin’s Russia – Variety | Episode Movies

Fifteen years after its inception, YouTube retains the power to shock and disorient—especially when used by kids who have lived their entire lives in its era. Manifesto, a found-footage documentary made entirely of social media videos of teenagers surviving a hostile upbringing and climate of terror in modern-day Russia, includes vignette after vignette to horrify viewers with unease and even wince in horror. The first impulse might be to wonder whether a documentary should even feature such material – but of course it was free to the public all along. As such, Manifesto invites an uneasy reflection on the distinct responsibilities of creating, consuming, and externally curating candid videos, and offers no guidance.

In the selection and compilation of amateur videos from several years into a constructed, collective everyday film, the presumably pseudonymous filmmaker Angie Vinchito takes considerable risks of decontextualization. There’s no narrative to tie or edit these disparate but symphonically desperate mini-narratives about physical abuse and psychological oppression, and “Manifesto” relies on viewers’ knowledge of recent Russian politics and social norms to determine , which videos depict the uncompromising reality that may be documented pranks or performances, and that were chillingly coerced.

Confusion is, at least in part, the point that reflects the environment of unreliable authority and media in which these teenagers grew up, and that makes for challenging, often stimulating work – one that impressed the judges of the Envision competition at IDFA, where ” Manifesto” world premiere to present him with their grand prize. Given the material’s political urgency and the debate-provoking nature of its approach, further documentary festival play is assured, although distribution is a difficult prospect for a film that requires every trigger warning in the book. Manifesto instead begins with a cautious waiver that “it is not the aim of this film to encourage resistance of any kind…or any other action intended to disrupt public order.” sink with the disruptors.

Things start out quite harmlessly, with an iPhone alarm announcing the start of a regular school day and various young videographers happily guiding us through their morning routine. But before long, an emergency siren is wailing across multiple videos — whether they show different angles of the same event or depict multiple crises across the country is ambiguous at first — as our young cameramen wonder if nuclear war has broken out, a school gunman is loose, or if it is just an ongoing exercise. In some cases, their fears are well-founded, their always-on phones capturing the frantic chaos of evacuations or spying on armed predators. But even in the face of real threats, they often remain stoic: “That’s it, that’s my last video,” shrugs a teenager. “Now anything can happen,” says another in a resigned tone.

When we turn to footage of more everyday violence in the classroom and beyond, we understand their deafness. Handheld cameras witness horrific scenes of teachers attacking and verbally abusing students for allegedly violating the propaganda curriculum. A girl with mascara streaming down her cheeks tells her front camera that she has been expelled and may have been reported to authorities for expressing her own political opinions. Other videos see children announcing plans to attend a rally for opposition leader Alexei Navalny and later dealing with the consequences for the police and parents. A boy announces he was evicted from his home by his father and zooms out to reveal a mattress on a snowy street. is he joking? We can’t know.

Most disturbingly, “Manifesto” transitions into a series of mea culpa Videos of Chechen teenagers apologizing for protesting the authority of autocratic leader Ramzan Kadyrov. It seems clear enough that they were forced into these confessionals by domineering elders — one boy is even flanked in his video by the hulking older brothers who “explained things to me” — but again, Vinchito lets the tone and lyrics of the Selected materials speak for themselves, sometimes in disconcerting contradiction. There are fewer ambiguities, however, in the harrowing finale, a live stream of the last stand of teenage couple Katia Vlasova and Denis Muravyov, who committed suicide together after being shot at and cornered by police – a case that here headlines back to her raw video of the event. There’s nothing and everything else to say: bold and unnerving and frankly questionable in its perspective or lack thereof, “Manifesto” acts primarily as a signal booster for young lives lost and in perilous limbo.

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