Manifesto Film Festival: Exploring the zeitgeist

From 6 – 8 September, the Manifesto Film Festival will descend onto multiple Amsterdam venues for its 3rd edition. Taking place everywhere from Rialto to Crea, The Eye to Het Ketelhuis, this destination festival seeks to break through the exclusivity, corporatization, and elitism of the country’s cinema status quo, with a weekend of social awareness and (of course) cinematic appreciation…with a healthy side of Amsterdam attractions to boot.

Organized and programmed by veteran programmer and film scholar, Alexandra Nakelski, Manifesto Film Festival evolved out of its original incarnation, the Norwich, UK based Radical Film Festival. Now based in Amsterdam with a new name and nomadic aspiration, Nagelski, a pop culture researcher and UvA Ph.D. candidate, curates based around the pulse of the zeitgeist, adapting custom themes to each programme and festival edition. “I am old school when it comes to story & character-oriented films of all genres,” Nakelski told 31 Mag on her approach. “Cinema is an artifact to who we are as humans…it is a great barometer of the collective consciousness,” she continues. This year, that collective consciousness yielded the theme Constructed Identities. Around this concept, the Manifesto Film Festival will present a slew of feature, short, fiction, non-fiction, and experimental films with a smattering of panels and special events covering its different aspects without the “red carpet bullshit” of other such festivals.

For the festival’s film programme, there are a variety of offerings spread across multiple venues. Kicking off with the Cannes premiered Girls of the Sun, part of Manifesto’s country focus on Kurdistan, the film depicts strong female protagonists engaging in the struggle against ISIS. “To see (Middle Eastern) women take an active role in fighting and regaining their spaces and fighting ISIS is an image I can get behind,” Nakelski says of the film. Girls of the Sun joins several selections covering the disputed region and culture, both fiction and documentary, including the narrative A Long Night and documentary New Life, amongst more. The focus on Kurdistan also sees renowned filmmaker Mazin M Sherabayani present four of his short films at the Rialto on September 6.

Additional special programmes include Hearing the Image, Seeing the Sound, The Importance of Synesthesia in Cinema, a panel discussing the emotional impact of sound design. Featuring on this panel will be Grammy Award-winning, and special festival guest, Stephen Task, the co-writer of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (also screening as a special event ahead of the festival’s closing night party, as well as New Zealand based sound designer Donna Kavanagh and Director Sara T. Gama. “Does sound deter or enhance the image,” Nakelski explains as the panel’s central question.

Perhaps the centerpiece of the festival, however, is the Constructed Identities panel (7 September, Het Ketelhius) conversation. There, professional You Tuber and, according to Nakelski, “star of the show”, Tatiana Pirogova will join Twitch Content Creator, Shanna Zwart, Fandom and pop culture PhD scholar, Neta Yodovich, and broadcaster/ sci-fi scholar, Laura De La O will each discuss different aspects of how digital media and technology fostered or burdened these expressions of individuation. “I like to promote awareness in everything I do,” Nakelski says. “A lot of people feel connected online, but what I found in my research and programming was that we need more online literacy and ethics,” she continues on the panels focus.

Of course, there are many other films to catch, events to enjoy, and conversations to be had across the Manifesto Film festival experience. For us, some of note include Steven Saporito and Zach Shaffer’s Squeezebox: The Movie, about New Yor City before its Giuliani-led Disneyfication. Benjamin Schindler’s Playland USA, continues the peer into American culture with a visual journey through America and its obsession with religion, the occult, and reenactments of its often horrific history. Further programme notes of interest also include the experimentally minded Amsterdam Film eXperience showcase, as well as Manifesto’s sister festival Riga International Short Film Festival 2ANNAS curator Astra Zoldnere, who’s Apocalypse Please selections well fit “putting the finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

“A lot of festivals cannibalize each other, but we are a destination festival focused on the experience,” Nakelski proudly says. “People often forget the festival part of film festivals. I want people to leave having a good time,” she continues. With a dissenting approach around her “we make our own space” mentality, Nakelsi and the Manifesto Film Festival seem to own their identity of “questioning the powers that be” while having a bit of fun along the way. A sentiment we can surely get behind!

Featured Image: Girls of the Sun, a film by Eva Husson


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