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Maura Brewer’s Jessica Manafort takes as its source Jessica Manafort’s 2007 directorial debut, Remember the Daze, a suburban coming-of-age film about high schoolers approaching graduation. A commercial flop, Daze was forgotten for a decade until the director’s father and principal funder, Paul Manafort, was indicted on corruption charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 election.
In 2017, text messages between Jessica and her sister, Andrea, dated from 2012-2016, were hacked and released online. Brewer superimposes these stolen conversations over Daze’s teen drama, marking up the screen with handwritten notations and drawings as if in real-time playback. Her deft editing strategy situates Manafort’s original film as backdrop to a family crisis indicating larger political dysfunctions. “Remember when there were all those deaths?” Jessica texts. “Revolts and what not.”
The bitchy self-righteousness of the Manafort sisters, living off their father’s blood money, easily wins sniggers. Neither escapism nor battlecry, the intertextual montage doesn’t develop its cannibalized archetype—“a story of the children of wealthy men,” the voiceover quips—instead indulging the Left’s smug gratification in watching the 45th Administration’s cinematic implosion. Manafort evokes the power of naming, and by extension, personal conviction. As the video notes, Jessica has since adopted her maternal surname, Bond, attempting to distance herself from her father, and unintentionally invoking broken promises, money and the power of Hollywood.
Brewer invites the viewer to consider the narratives of consumption—and/or corruption, nepotism—that contribute to cultural production. Punning on “liquid assets,” she illustrates the besieged lobbyist’s spending through the arithmetic of animated coffee cups, alongside screen-grabs from Candy Crush Soda Saga. Yet when edited together, these iPhone gimmicks, lackluster teen tropes, and topical anecdotes gleaned from the fourth estate, all but normalize Paul Manafort’s misdeeds as merely the product of his privilege. Wrapped in the recognizable, anyone with even a tertiary grasp on current events will not be shocked by Brewer’s cynical revelations, which read as casually and indifferently as swiping left. To quote another artist, “abuse of power comes as no surprise.”
Maura Brewer: Jessica Manafort runs from November 10–December 8, 2018 at Queens (2601 Pasadena Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90031).