You have an extraordinary collaborator in all this, the actor Cate Blanchett. She inhabits 13 different roles set against 12 different scenarios. How did these characters and their dialogue evolve?
The main idea for Manifesto was not to illustrate the particular manifesto texts, but rather to allow Cate to embody the manifestos. Until the last third of the 20th century there were only a few manifestos written by women artists. Most were written by men and they are just bursting with testosterone. So I thought it was thrilling to let them be spoken today by a woman.
The process of scripting Manifesto was very organic. I started to play with the texts and to edit, combine and rearrange them into new texts that could be spoken and performed. I like to imagine these texts as the words of a bunch of friends sitting around a table in a bar talking and arguing. They are complementing each other in a playful way. One may say, ‘Down with this or that …’ and the other replies, ‘Yes, to hell with…’ I would take a sentence by one artist and interrupt it with the words of another one. Sometimes they would fit perfectly. The words took on a new energy when combined, and if you start to read the text like that it also becomes more vivid and more speakable.
While in one way the process of collaging them together was maybe not very respectful to the original texts, in another I liked the way that it referenced this idea of a collection of voices, a conversation. Many of the early manifestos, of the Futurists and the Surrealists, were written by groups of artists. There were already multiple voices in these singular texts. I then rearranged these multiple voices into new monologues: again, turning these texts onto themselves.
In parallel, I began to sketch different scenes in which a woman talks, ending up with 60 short scenes, situations right across various educational levels and professional milieus. The only thing these draft scenes had in common was that they are being performed today, and that a woman is holding a monologue: whether a speaker by a grave at a cemetery, a primary-school teacher in front of her class, or a homeless person on the street. Sometimes we listen to the woman’s inner voice; in other instances she addresses an audience; once she even interviews herself, etc. I finally edited everything down to 12 scenes and 12 corresponding text collages. Those words that remained were simply the most beautiful, speakable and performable ones.
Manifesto was filmed over a 12-day period in Berlin in the winter of 2014. Was there any room for improvisation?
Usually there is, but since this time we were working within a very tight timeframe there wasn’t much space for improvisation. So, just to give some context, for an arthouse film you normally produce three to five minutes a day. We had to produce 12 minutes a day, which is pretty similar to the timeframe of a TV soap opera. But of course we didn’t want to work on the aesthetic level of a TV soap. So we needed a very generous team and most of all a very generous actress to work under these conditions.
One challenge was the huge amount of text to be spoken in 12 different accents which Cate had to overcome. And then each of the characters had to speak in a milieu represented by the colour of speech. As if this weren’t enough, for organisational shooting reasons sometimes we even had to cover two roles per day, which also meant an additional costume and makeup change each day for Cate and the hair and makeup team. For these reasons, we had to plan the shoot meticulously. But, here and there, a certain amount of spontaneity and improvisation was necessary. And of course Cate might have read the text or understood the respective scene differently from me, and so sometimes she surprised me with ideas, emerging from the depths of her profound experience and incredible talent. Every day was different and the way that the dialogue – or better, monologue – shaped the scene was constantly shifting and exciting. And despite the highest level of concentration and dedication, and the many working hours each day, Cate admirably retained her very special sense of humour during work. We laughed a lot.
In Manifesto you have used a Sol LeWitt text about conceptual art for a scene in which Cate Blanchett plays two characters, a news anchor and a reporter, both called ‘Cate’. What is their relationship to LeWitt’s text?
This is an exceptional scene in a way. Rather than performing a manifesto, Cate is inhabited by LeWitt’s writing. She is the manifesto. The tussle between logic and illogic within the text is also inherent in the scene and the characters. It becomes a piece of conceptual art in a way, right?