Year:  2022

Director:  Angie Vinchito

Release:  July 12 and 13, 2023

Running time: 68 minutes

Worth: $16.50
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Hard to watch – even harder to look away.

Disquieting, disturbing and intense, this documentary is composed entirely of videos posted to social media by Russian teenagers depicting life under Putin.

It’s powerful cinema – ironically using ‘found footage’ that was made for YouTube, not the big screen. And while there’s no doubt that most of these videos show real events, in the current climate of fakery, you do wonder if they’re all genuine.

Manifesto was directed, edited and produced by Angie Vinchito – apparently a pseudonym for an individual or possibly a collective. The filmmaker/s have assembled Manifesto with care. It’s remarkably coherent. It’s also shocking. But incredibly, in between the shocks, the high schoolers are – at least sometimes – just kids being kids. They laugh and joke. They muck around when the teacher’s out of the classroom.

There’s no commentary, no context. Occasionally a place name is mentioned within the dialogue, but no locations are identified – just a stream of moving images showing a system that’s broken. The videos are loosely grouped around themes. The first batch sees sleepy teenagers vlogging from the comfort of their beds – it’s mundane and innocent. We see them brush their teeth, get breakfast and head for school. Before long, the videos become frightening. An air raid siren. The teens are terrified, one says that a nuclear war has started. Later on, we see riot police, kids hiding under desks, a school evacuation…

But scariest of all are the teachers – verbal, physical and even sexual abuse is shown. The teachers call the kids “morons”, one cuts a boy’s arm with a knife. Could it have been staged? It seems genuine and other clips are clearly real – such as moments from the Kazan school shooting in 2021, and the tragic teens Denis and Katya, who became the subject of an opera. Although there’s no context, there is a list of YouTube video titles in the credits, finally offering clues as to what you’ve just seen. The list includes the year each video was created, and place names are sometimes included in the titles.

Manifesto is a unique experience. Hard to watch – even harder to look away.