Two years after "Another Earth" and "Sound of My Voice" catapulted her to indie-icon status at Sundance, Brit Marling is back in Park City with her latest writing-acting effort, "The East." Directed and co-written by her "Sound of My Voice" collaborator Zal Batmanglij, the Fox Searchlight thriller centers on an ex-FBI agent (Marling) who infiltrates an anarchist collective known as The East suspected of attacking corporate CEOs. Once embedded within the group, however, she soon finds herself on their side.
Indiewire sat down with Marling and co-star Ellen Page, who plays a member of The East, to discuss the timely aspects of the film, Marling and Batmanglij's personal ties to the screenplay and why Sundance founder Robert Redford is a revolutionary in his own way.
Brit, I first met you back when “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice” premiered at Sundance. Watching “The East,” I had to pinch myself. Did you?
: Oh, gosh. You know, it’s funny. Some things change, but some things stay the same. When you’re in the Eccles, it’s the same totally terrifying feeling. You make films in an incubator. And this time it was even more intense because you make it with people you really love and respect like Ellen and Alexander [Saarsgard] and everybody at Searchlight. And then you just have no idea how it’s going to play. But I think it was better than anybody could have expected. The audience seemed really engaged. So that was wild. The story has been a long time coming and it was an intense experience for us all.
At the screening this morning, the first person to ask a question during the Q&A introduced herself as an anarchist. Did either of you anticipate folks like her coming to the film to see how their lives were portrayed on screen?
: I don’t know if I thought about that too much. Yeah, I guess I'm interested in how anarchists feel about how their world is depicted. I think whenever you go create a world you’re interested in hearing from the people that are actually in it. You hope to make them feel ok. I don’t typically think about that while I'm making a movie. But I’m very specifically interested in how the audience in general will respond to this one, just because I think it’s so ethically murky -- the ideas that it presents. I’m so intrigued to see people’s responses.
Ellen, did you meet anyone similarly minded to your character to prepare for the role?
: No. I mean, I’d been in a world that is different. I studied permaculture design in Oregon on an eco village. It’s different, obviously, but I met a lot of people there. I met this young girl, she was 15, she was in our class, and she had dropped out of school and was a freegan. I was just in awe of her. She just made me feel horrible about my consumption and my justification of it. So I’d met people and had known people sort of in that world. But then also I read anarchist manifestos and books that were actually really incredible and intriguing. A lot of the ideas are actually common sense, and that’s what is actually kind of unfortunate.
Brit, I wasn’t aware until today’s Q&A that “The East” was actually inspired by real-life experience. Can you talk a bit about your and Zal’s personal ties to the screenplay?
: Yeah. Before we had made “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth,” we were living in L.A. and trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives. I don’t think we really knew. We had heard about ‘Buy Nothing Day.’ Have you heard about this?
"More technology doesn’t seem to connect people necessarily. These groups of people seemed so connected. They seemed engaged with one another." -- Marling
: It’s just this day where you basically buy nothing. You don’t buy gas for you car. You don’t buy groceries. You try to figure out how to make do with the things you already have. When you spend a day doing that, it kind of changes your perspective on things. So then we got this idea that we wanted to do a ‘buy nothing’ summer and we wanted to travel and we wanted to learn how to train hop and we wanted to sleep on roof tops and dumpster dive and explore this world of anarchy and freegans and intentional communities. And we did it and it was… I’m not the same person. I just was different on the other side.
It’s not even about the politics actually. I feel like one of the things our generation's, maybe everybody’s, struggling with is stuff like isolation and alienation. More technology doesn’t seem to connect people necessarily. These groups of people seemed so connected. They seemed engaged with one another. They seemed awake and living their lives in this way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I think we were both really moved by that.
The summer kind of ended and we were like, ‘OK, maybe we should go find some jobs.’ We were still mulling over these ideas and couldn’t make sense of our experience. That’s when we sort of started writing it. I don’t think we even necessarily thought it would be a movie. It was before “Sound of My Voice” and “Another Earth.” We had no career. I was pimping myself out as a camera operator to make money. But we were trying to make sense of the experience and make sense of the question: how do you live your life? At the same time, the movies that we watch and that we’re interested in are really high-concept thrillers. I love the “Bourne” movies; I love espionage. I love to go to the theater and be entertained. So we thought we’d bring those things together. Hopefully it worked (laughs).