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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “Sound of My Voice” Director Zal Batmanglij

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "Sound of My Voice" Director Zal Batmanglij

Following much preparation, Peter and Lorna are given an address. In the dead of night, they pull off the lonely road and await further instructions. Soon they part with their clothes and belongings. After they shower and clean themselves thoroughly, they are blindfolded and whisked to an undisclosed location, where they descend into a basement. Once downstairs, they perform the complicated handshake and are able to gain entry into the group. With that, the young couple, who have been posing as believers, successfully infiltrate the cult’s inner sanctum and meet enigmatic leader Maggie, portrayed by the promising Brit Marling (also cowriter and producer).

What follows is a delicately paced and riveting plunge into a psychological maelstrom of uncertainty and danger. Filmmaker Zal Batmanglij’s feature debut crackles with a mesmerizing command of form, offering no easy answers to the elusive search for truth. [Synopsis courtesy of Sundance Film Festival.]

Sound of My Voice
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenwriter: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Executive Producer: Eric Richter, Victoria Guenier
Producer: Hans Ritter, Shelley Surpin, Brit Marling
Composer: Rostam Batmanglij
Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison
Editor: Tamara Meem
Production Designer: Scott Enge

Responses courtesy of “Sound of My Voice” director Zal Batmanglij.

Taking filmmaking inspiration from “Return to Oz”

Zal Batmanglij. [Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival]

When I was a kid I was haunted and excited by movies. Something like “Return to Oz” —which may seem like just a childrenʼs movie is in fact pretty deep. It made me feel an intensity I hadnʼt before. After watching something like that I was inspired to create my own stories, which were often wild and weird. Whatʼs great about being younger is that you wholeheartedly believe in your imagined world. Today I try and get into that zone when Iʼm making a movie—try and really believe it. Doesnʼt always work but when it does it feels pretty magical.

What interested the team about telling a cultish story?

Brit Marling, the co-writer, and I were fascinated (are still fascinated) by the idea of belief. Is the world mundane and ordinary? Are things just randomly happening? Or is there something far deeper and more complex at work? “Sound of My Voice” follows a young couple, who pose as believers in order to gain access into the inner sanctum of a cult. This conceit allowed us to explore all sorts of different avenues of belief. What happens when you pretend to believe? How does the truth surprise you? How do we, the voyeur, become complicit in the cult—in deciding what is and isn’t true?

Being optimistic about low-budget filmmaking…

Low budgets are liberating. Movies reflect real life. And real life happens all around us, all the time. And itʼs free. Since we were shooting on an SLR with a small crew we could make a lot of movie magic by blending the real with the imagined.

Problem solving is key…

For a scene on an airplane I was excited by the creative challenge of capturing it cinematically on a micro-budget. So I came up with the idea just buying three tickets on Virgin America—one for the actor, one for the cinematographer and one for me. We flew from LAX to SFO and then back again an hour later. Got some sick footage that feels real because it is real.

Translating your vision to a project that an audience will cling to…

Getting people to see things how you see things is difficult. After the first year I started to doubt whether I was seeing things properly myself. Then I realized that if I wanted to get our project made, I would have to clearly communicate not only the visual approach but also the micro-budget execution of that approach.

Fellow filmmakers, be prepared!

Producers would say that we couldnʼt have 19 speaking parts and 11 locations on such a shoe-string budget. And instead of getting frustrated, I would say here is how I propose to do it—step by step and in detail.

On unleashing his personal movie onto the public…

We tried to capture a certain time in our lives when we wrote “Sound of My Voice”—mood, place, the questions we were wrestling with. Hopefully some people will connect with that, will understand what we were trying to communicate. I feel like we bottled our contradicting feelings/emotions/questions and have thrown that bottle out to sea. Iʼm just glad someone will be opening the bottle—who knows how it will taste to them? Maybe itʼll have an interesting or lasting taste. That would be good.

And next…?

Brit and I have been researching and writing a movie about anarchists. We hope to shoot it this summer.

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