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FUTURES | "Another Earth" Director Mike Cahill on Mining Sci-Fi from Loneliness

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 21, 2011 at 2:31AM

Age: 32. Hometown: New Haven, Conn.
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"Another Earth" director/co-write Mike Cahill at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. Photo by Nigel M. Smith.

Age: 32.
Hometown: New Haven, Conn.

Why He's On Our Radar: Cahill directed/co-wrote/co-produced/shot/edited his remarkably assured debut "Another Earth," a sci-fi love story, which wowed audiences at Sundance earlier this year and garnered distribution deal with Fox Searchlight out of the festival.

More About Him: Cahill studied economics at Georgetown where he first met his "Another Earth" star and co-writer Brit Marling. Out of school, Cahill landed a job at National Geographic where he went on to become the staff's youngest field producer, editor and cinematographer. He went on to spent a year in Cuba making the documentary "Boxers and Ballerinas" (with Marling) and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked on a number of documentaries (including "Leonard Cohen I'm Your Man") and directed several episodes of MTV's Emmy award-winning series "True Life."

His feature film debut, "Another Earth," was accepted into the Dramatic Competition at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award and the Sloan Prize. In the film, Marling plays Rhoda, a young woman with a bright future. The night that the world learns of a new planet in the sky, she crashes her car into a van, killing an expectant mother and her child. Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison still harboring guilt for her deadly actions. In a freak occurrence, she happens upon the house of her victim’s widowed husband (William Mapother) and strikes up a friendship with the stranger.

What's Next: According to Cahill: "I wrote two more scripts. There's something interesting that I keep gravitating towards -- I like reality with a twist. Creating a world where there's something different and inside embedding a human drama. So I've written a story about reincarnation being proven true and it takes place in the future. It's cool... it's twisted."

indieWIRE Asks: What was it about Brit that made you go, 'OK this is someone I need to collaborate with'?

I saw a work she did in digital art class. It was fucking brilliant. It was so deeply emotionally felt. Her performance is phenomenal in the movie itself, but she's so talented in so many different realms. Where transferring emotion is the main challenge -- she is exceptionally good at that.

How did the high-concept premise of "Another Earth" come about?

I think we were wrestling with the idea of the loneliness of life. You may have great close friends, a great lover or a great family but there are certain things that you have just got to deal with yourself. There's this inner monologue inside your head. We were both being very self reflexive about life, considering where we were at the time. It spawned from that. There is a relationship that you have with yourself that's a very private relationship. What if that were externalized?

And then I found out how to do the cool composites of another Earth, visual effects wise.

So you made sure you could pull the movie off visually before you finished the script?

Yeah, totally. I did this video art piece where's there's another earth in the sky. And I thought, OK, with a movie with no budget, this is something we can achieve. We can do something like this, with this concept and tell a story inside of it. Then we decided that the story of someone seeking out redemption with an antagonism of guilt would be the most interesting story to tell within that larger high concept.

Did you want to prove something by doing a sci-film of this scale on such a low budget?

I don't even know if we were really considering the genre so much so. We weren't surrendering to the genre in many ways. When you see the film, it's very minimalist sci-fi. It's sci-fi for the purposes of metaphor, which I think all great science fiction, that what it's about. You don't need necessarily the most incredible effects to pull off what sci-fi at its heart allows us to do. It allows the impossible metaphor.

What are some of your favorite sci-fi films? Brit said hers was "Twelve Monkeys."

"Twelve Monkeys" is amazing. I love "Children of Men." Outside of sci-fi, I like Kieślowski and "The Double Life of Véronique." It's not sci-fi, it's more metaphysical with a twist. I love his "Red" "White" and "Blue" series. He's dealing with the larger questions of fate versus choice, especially in "The Double Life of Véronique" -- the fantasy of having another you who your soul can be connected with to fight the loneliness of the human construct. I'm a film geek.

Do you think "Another Earth" benefited from its budgetary constraints?

Absolutely. The constraints don't constrict the imagination, they just cause the imagination to go in a different way.

Prior to this, your last feature was a documentary. Did you always have an inkling to do a narrative feature?

It was the dream to be making feature films. I think it's a slow process to get there. Working on documentaries, I really enjoyed that process a lot. But there came a moment where we were like, there are stories that we can tell where we can control the whole thesis of it. This ["Another Earth"] was my first attempt.

This article is related to: Interviews, Futures, Another Earth