Zal Batmanglij

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Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij left a positive impression on me a few years ago at South by Southwest. Not only with Sound of My Voice, their first full-length feature film together, but also in person during the brief time I spent sitting down with them. That is a movie that raises quite a few questions, and it was obvious they had every possible answer to these questions in mind. Both on screen and off, the two filmmakers displayed between them a clear confidence and shared interests. With their second collaboration, “the eco-terrorist” thriller The East, the two came to town for a press day near their old stomping ground, Georgetown University. Marling and Batmanglij met for the first time there, and it was fitting interviewing them close to the campus after having discussed their college and city experience a few years ago in Austin. Despite having found a nice little home with Fox Searchlight and having more money to work with now, the duo remain the same, sharing a similar interest in certain themes and the type of stories they want to tell.

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The East

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij stepped onto the indie scene in a prominent way with Sound of My Voice. The collaborators made a surprising movie that truly engaged in a conversation with its audience, asking plenty of questions and giving you the proper amount of clues to form your own answers. Their followup film, The East, isn’t so much about questions, but it’s a shame the movie lays everything on so thick and in such obvious ways, leaving little room for any moral ambiguity. At the end of the day, this is a movie where the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are kind of the bad guys. One of those characters, who fluctuates between both camps in contrived ways, is Sarah (Brit Marling). She works for a private intelligence firm made for evil corporations and such, has a boyfriend, and a nice life. Sarah, being the up and coming hotshot agent she is, like any other spy protagonist, is assigned to infiltrate an eco-terrorist cell known as “The East.” Assigned by her boss, Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) — who even gets to spew out exposition on a rooftop with that cliche helicopter lingering in the background — she has complete faith in her spy. It’s an obvious B-movie set up, and for the first half, it moves exceptionally well in that regard.

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Page

The last time Ellen Page was onscreen, she played a pseudo intellectual temptation for the protagonist of Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love. It was a comical role, one that really fit in nicely with the oblivious Allen-type characters. Now she can be seen in The East with a performance that couldn’t be more different. Here, playing Izzy, Page is an intimidating presence in the eco-terrorist group the film follows. In terms of genre and performance, it’s a 180-degree turn for the actress. Like most actors, that’s something Page strives for. She’s been making some inspired, or no-brainer, choices of who to craft those diverse performances with. In Christopher Nolan, David Slade, Jason Reitman, Lynn Shelton and James Gunn, Page has worked with some of today’s best talents. The East finds her joined up with an exciting duo in the film world, Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling. We discussed Batmanglij and Marling’s thriller with Ellen Page, as well as her process, the world The East unveils, and more:

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We are all just going to forget this poster for Zal Batmanglij‘s The East doesn’t exist (well, after we finish this post), because it’s a pretty poor example of the latest from the director and co-writer. The standard issue, face-heavy (and, honestly, are those pictures of stars Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgaard, and Ellen Page just lifted from stills from the movie?) one-sheet for the new eco-terrorism thriller doesn’t do much to convey that it’s a smart, enthralling piece of work that will stick with you long after you’ve seen it. Here: The East is a smart, enthralling piece of work that will stick with you long after you’ve seen it. Goodbye, poster. The East opens in theaters in May. [BlackBook]

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  So far it has only been seen at Sundance, but The East is giving those of us not in Park City a glimpse of what it has to offer, in the form of a trailer. This is the latest collaboration between director Zal Batmanglij and his co-writer/star Brit Marling, the duo who brought us the weird and interesting cult movie Sound of My Voice last year. The East casts Marling as a private intelligence operative who protects the interests of big corporations and sends her off on a mission to infiltrate and take down a cell of dangerous eco-terrorists. Sounds easy enough, right? Not when you start to fall in love with the operation’s charismatic leader and your loyalties begin to be pulled in two different directions. The trailer for the film doesn’t tell us all of this, though. Instead it masquerades as a sort of propaganda video/audio-visual threat aimed at rich people and big business. A mission statement gets read as we see images of big companies polluting the Earth and oppressing the poor and of this organization of revolutionaries making preparations to fight back. Threats are made and creepy masks are worn. If you’re a business owner with a bursting bank account, you might want to skip this one for fear of it making you squirm in your seat. But for everyone else, prepare to catch glimpses of Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgård, and Patricia Clarkson. For an indie movie, The East boasts a pretty impressive cast.

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Co-writer and star of the stunning Sound of My Voice, Brit Marling has been poised to break out for over a year now. Marling is one of two emerging “it girl” female stars that lit up the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, sharing the honor with Elizabeth Olsen (who, like Marling, appeared in two films that year, Silent House and the infinitely better Martha Marcy May Marlene). Marling, of course, has a leg up on the apparent competition, as she has also co-written both of her starring vehicles with their respective directors. While her other Sundance film, Another Earth, was not met with as much acclaim as SOMV (either at the festival or in its own limited release), the two form compelling companion pieces, particularly with the knowledge that Marling wrote them at the same time – she’d write Another Earth in the morning with Mike Cahill, dedicating her evenings to SOMV and Zal Batmanglij. Both Sound of My Voice and Another Earth focus on people who are looking for something to alleviate them from the pain present in their daily lives, but while Another Earth relies on the introduction of an entirely new planet to drive its narrative, SOMV instead centers on the vast expanses that exist in single human beings. It is not just a better film than Another Earth, it is a film that is exceedingly accomplished, confounding, and consuming beyond just basic comparisons. Wrapped in a tidy 85-minute package, Batmanglij and Marling have created their own world, […]

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Few recent marketing campaigns have impressed me as profoundly as Fox Searchlight’s push for Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling‘s Sound of My Voice. The Sundance hit comes with a plotline that’s ready-made for some inventive viral work, as it centers on a mysterious cult in Los Angeles, its compelling leader (Marling), and a pair of documentary filmmakers who infiltrate the organization in order to film an expose (they, of course, find much more than they bargained for). The marketing team for Sound of My Voice have clearly had a great time “recruiting new cult members” for the film with weekly meetings in Los Angeles (hey, they even got me there), but they decided to take the show on the road, stopping at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival to lure in fresh members. The result? An amusing, confounding video that reveals a startling amount of information about the film. While moviegoers who have yet to see the film will surely be intrigued by the video, it is people who have already seen Sound of My Voice who will be most stirred by it. Why? Because a very unexpected member of the cult shows up as part of the recruitment team. While I would not call the video a true spoiler, if you’re looking forward to seeing Sound of My Voice and want to stay fresh, perhaps save this video for viewing after you watch this phenomenal film. Already seen SOMV? Prepare to have your interpretations rocked.

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It’s perhaps too spot-on that Los Angeles’ own Ukrainian Cultural Center also functions as a theater, with a big stage and grand Art Deco features nestled inside and outside of it. After all, I am here for some theatrics, but not the kind that take place on a stage or even on a screen – but the kind that require participation and collusion and even a healthy slice of delusion, even as they also beg for stories and plots and costumes. I am not here for a movie or a concert or a reading. I am here to join a cult.

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To say that I have been eagerly anticipating Zal Batmanglij‘s Sound of My Voice is the understatement of the year. I’ve been rabid about seeing this thing ever since it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival (where everyone loved it) and then followed that up with a run at last year’s SXSW Film Festival (where everyone loved it), and though I attended both festivals, I could never manage to fit the film in to my schedule. I even remember standing outside the Alamo, heartbroken and thunderstruck, after I missed a screening of the film by a mere five minutes. Batmanglij co-wrote the film with star Brit Marling, and while I’ve more than taken my lumps for hating Marling’s other Sundance 2011 film, Another Earth, I’ve been assured that I will love Sound of My Voice, so perhaps my indie cred isn’t dead just yet. That all said, the film stars Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius as a couple/documentary filmmaking team who attempt to break into a Marling-led cult for a project, only to find themselves pulled under her sway. The film will finally hit theaters this April, and marketing is just beginning to roll out. Snap on over to Apple to watch the film’s first two minutes, and if that intrigues you (hint: it will), mark your calendars for Thursday, when you can watch the first twelve minutes (comprising the first of ten “chapters” that make up the film) of Sound of My Voice at the film’s official site […]

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The casting news for Zal Batmanglij’s next film with co-writer and leading lady, Brit Marling, continues to be my latest obsession. We know that the pair’s film The East will focus on an eco-terrorism group that is infiltrated by a hired agent, and that plotline, paired with Batmanglij and Marling’s apparent interest in fringe groups and their draw (look no further than their Sundance hit Sound of My Voice for proof of this), is enough to get me outrageously excited for the indie thriller. But as the film rounds out its casting, my excitement level is verging on simply unmanageable. Marling is already in to star as the undercover agent, dispatched by a private security firm that works to protect large corporations from eco-terrorist groups like the titular the East. Marling will get more involved than she anticipated, however, as her character will end up falling for the leader of the group, to be played by Alexander Skarsgard. Ellen Page is also on tap to play a member of The East, one who also has a romantic past with Skarsgard. The production has now added Patricia Clarkson in the role of Marling’s corporate boss, along with Brit Toby Kebbell, who is in negotiations for a role as “a doctor who was treated with a tainted drug that caused him to have Parkinson’s-like symptoms.”

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Ellen Page is reportedly in “final talks” for a role in Zal Batmanglij’s The East. Batmanglij has written the script with the film’s star, indie up-and-comer Brit Marling, with the film marking the pair’s first collaboration after their Sundance hit, Sound of My Voice. The film has been billed as a sort of thriller, set in the world of hardcore eco-terrorist groups. We’ve known that Marling would play some sort of “agent” who infiltrates a group, called The East, which is led by Alexander Skarsgard, but today’s news on Page’s casting comes with some additional information on the film’s plot, which is now further explained as a “story [that] concerns a private contracting firm tasked with protecting big corporations from radical environmentalists and anti-business extremists that assigns its best and brightest agent to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist organization known only as ‘The East.’” Marling is the agent employee of said contracting firm, who “finds herself falling for the leader” of the group. As if that didn’t sound like trouble enough, “Page will play Izzy, a member of The East who used to be Skarsgard’s lover and is now jealous of the attention he pays Marling’s character.” Who wants to bet that it’s Page’s character who uncovers what Marling’s character is really up to and reveals it all in one snarling torrent?

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Since busting on to the scene with her work in two of Sundance 2011’s biggest hits, Brit Marling’s next roles have been the source of constant speculation and chatter. But the multi-hyphenate’s skills go far beyond just acting, and one move was always for sure – she would be reteaming with Zal Batmanglij for another film, titled The East. With Marling serving as female lead and co-writer with director Batmanglij, the film was in need of strong male lead to play against Marling. They may have gotten that with Alexander Skarsgård, who is in talks to join the film. We don’t know much about the film (and I don’t expect that to change, considering that the little we do know seems so intriguing and not in need of any sort of big elaboration), but we do know that it will revolve “around a female agent who infiltrates an eco-terrorist group. The title of the movie refers to the group’s name.” Marling will play the agent, with Skarsgård in talks to take on the role of the group’s leader. The East will chronicle the type of fringe group not normally seen on cinema screens. It brings to mind the documentary If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which opened this year. That film focused on true stories of some of the ELF’s members, a number of which are certainly interesting enough to go the big feature route. The East should play as an interesting counterpoint to Marling […]

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