ALEXA on MANIFESTO video installation

MANIFESTO is the latest video project by artist Julian Rosefeldt and his cinematographer Christoph Krauss BVK; a 12-channel art installation, it is by far the most ambitious of their many collaborations. Needing a reliable, rock-solid camera kit for the hectic shoot, Krauss chose to capture this unusual project with ALEXA XT Plus and ALEXA Plus cameras. 

Drawing on the writings of Futurist, Dadaist, Surrealist and Fluxus artists, among others, the Berlin-based artist Julian Rosefeldt has edited and compiled a collage of historic artists' manifestos, to question whether they still ring true in the 21st century. Embodied by actress Cate Blanchett, who spoke, sometimes whispered or delivered the texts sermon-like, the manifestos appear to take on lives of their own. Blanchett's on-screen personas include a choreographer, teacher and newscaster, and she is unrecognizable as a homeless man; her performances are projected onto 12 screens, 13 if the introduction is included. "Cate was truly a gift and a pleasure to work with, as she is extremely versatile," says Krauss. 

MANIFESTO is the twelfth project on which Rosefeldt and Krauss have worked together. In order to query the role of artists in the 21st century, Rosefeldt takes viewers into almost surreal theatrical realms to explore dislocation, alienation and social disruption. In one enactment, the severity of Blanchett's costume and choreographer's searing gaze contrasts sharply with the almost gaudy-looking, sparkling costumes of her dancers. Her shouted monologue, representative of the famous Fluxus Manifesto by George Maciunas, becomes like a military drill as the students dance across the stage of Berlin's Friedrichstadt Palast. "Purge the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art," she commands. "Promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art. Promote living art, anti-art." 

Yet another scene, representative of Suprematism, shows her as a scientist in an acoustic clean room and other research laboratories. At one point, citing Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Manifesto, she declares: "Objects have vanished like smoke; I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and got out of the circle of objects; this accursed horizon ring that has imprisoned the artist and leads him away from the aim of destruction." 

A very tight budget meant that the crew had to shoot 130 minutes of footage (12 ten-and-a-half-minute monologues, plus the intro) over 12 days in winter 2014 at locations across Berlin and the surrounding region. In order to speed things up on set the crew had a second camera, allowing them to shoot from two perspectives. Krauss chose the ALEXA XT Plus as his A-camera, which had the advantage of not requiring an external recorder on the Steadicam or crane for VFX shots captured in ARRIRAW. Non-VFX sequences shot with the ALEXA XT Plus and the ALEXA Plus B-camera were recorded in ProRes 4444. An additional Phantom Flex camera was used for two high-speed shots at 500 fps.

"I chose Cooke S4 lenses for the MANIFESTO shoot because I like the slightly softer skin tones they produce," says the cinematographer. They were combined with two Angenieux Optimo Zooms, the 15-40 mm (T2.6) and 24-290 mm (T2.8), which were used for longer focal lengths and flexible second unit shots when the A- and B-cameras were at different locations. 

Rather than let the installation appear overly abstract and aloof, Krauss strived for a natural look. The idea was to have apparently normal people, acted by Blanchett, speaking these radical, powerful texts, making them more easily intelligible to viewers. "As in almost all of Julian's works, there is enough abstraction through either deceleration in long takes and slow motion, or unnatural perspectives like high top-shots," says Krauss. One example is a scene shot late at night in the central library at Berlin's Humboldt University, wherein Blanchett becomes a stock-exchange trader and is representative of Futurism. 

Years of previous collaboration with ARRI Rental meant that everything ran smoothly for Krauss; all of the camera, stage technology and lighting equipment were flawless, he notes. The gaffer, Christoph Dehmel-Osterloh, used mainly ARRI lights for their rugged reliability, including daylight fixtures from the M-Series. "We relied particularly on a few versatile ARRI M18s," says Krauss. 

Commissioned by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, MANIFESTO debuted in Melbourne on 9 December 2015 and will open in Berlin's Museum Hamburger Bahnhof in February 2016. A 90-minute linear version is currently in postproduction and will be screened by co-producer Bayerischer Rundfunk on its channel in 2018, as well as making the rounds at film festivals. 

Pauline Bugler