I sat down with a few other DC film critics to speak with Brit Marling, Ellen Page and Zal Batmanglij to discuss their newest film, The East. Marling and Batmanglij, both graduates of Georgetown University returned to DC to film scenes for the movie. The duo both wrote 2012’s Sound of My Voice, which Marling starred in and Batmanglij directed.
Lauren Bradshaw (ClotureClub.com): I just wanted to tell you guys first off… I just started doing movie reviews six months ago and it was because of Sound of My Voice. I was like, “I need to tell people about how great this movie is!” I just wanted to tell you that before I ask my question.
Marling: Thank you! That’s so nice to hear!
Batmanglij: We’ll take any questions from you now.
Lauren B: I’m not trying to kiss your butts, I just had to tell you!
Batmanglij: No! That’s why we make movies so that it can move people like you!
Lauren B: Okay, so I was wondering… in the “buy nothing” summer, that you were talking about last night at the Q&A, was there anything that you took from this “buy nothing” summer that you still do today? Could you talk about your “buy nothing summer”? [Batmanglij and Marling participated in a “buy nothing summer” while living for a summer in freegan collectives. A “buy nothing summer” is when you literally spend no money and instead recycle the public’s “waste”. For example, there is a lot of dumpster diving for expired food that is still good but can no longer be on shelves.]
Batmanglij: That’s a good question.
Marling: I think the thing that is still with me so much is the desire for community and collective living and maybe that’s part of why I’m so attracted to filmmaking, because it’s inherently collective and you sort of live as a tribe for awhile while you’re making something. After I experienced that that summer, it was really hard to go back to sort of normal life which can be a bit isolating… alienating. So that really stuck with me.
Batmanglij: I think for me, it’s spin the bottle… I’ve tried to initiate unsuccessfully other… we experienced spin the bottle on the road; it’s a nice, free way to get kisses.
Marling: [laughing] free way to get kisses.
Lauren B.: [to Marling] Except for your character I guess.
Batmanglij: [to Marling] Yeah! You got a hug!
Lauren B.: I felt so bad for her!
Marling: [to Page] I got one kiss!
Lauren B: Yeah! You got a kiss.
Batmanglij: I didn’t mean a free way for kisses, I guess I meant a free way of entertainment.
Page: What am I, chopped liver?
Marling: I got a very good kiss.
Batmanglij: Yeah, it’s free entertainment. That’s the cool thing; it doesn’t cost any money. Movies cost a lot of money.
Lauren B. [to Page]: And did you do the kind of “freegan” lifestyle at all?
Page: No, I went to Oregon and studied permaculture design and eco-village development when I was, like, 22 so it was very similar ideas and you know, all kinds of different people living there and coming to take that course. It was new-freegans and new people that lived that lifestyle and experienced communal living in that way and also just the sort of radical reshaping of ideas and perspectives in your head because it often just sort of flips everything upside down in a good way.
Lauren Veneziani (www.DCfilmgirl.com): Sarah is able to infiltrate The East because she’s a professional and she’s trained and she’s able to kind of get in pretty smoothly. This question is for Brit and Ellen, which of your previous characters do you think would have been able to successfully infiltrate The East easily and which do you think would have had a really hard time infiltrating it?
Marling: Past characters we’ve played? [to Page] I think Hard Candy girl would have infiltrated very well.
Page: You totally just got it. Yeah, she would have. And you want to know the worst? The worst? Maybe.. oh you know who would’ve been great in The East? Maybe Libby from “Super”! Probably, I played a young Republican in a movie called Smart People. She’s a little bit of a… [Laughter]
Marling: Um, I think probably who would have had a difficult time, oh this character maybe from The Company You Keep. Because she’s more… I can’t imagine her going that far.
Batmanglij: Or the girl from Arbitrage.
Marling: Oh gosh the girl from Arbitrage could have never… she has to straighten her hair in the morning. She needs something to plug her straightener into. She couldn’t have done it. And I’m sure Rhoda from Another Earth would have had… I mean, she’s already in a sort of janitor coverall and never takes that off so I think she would kind of blend in.
Batmanglij: I want to see the Maggie/Benji showdown.
Marling: Maggie would have been just fine. That’s a good question!
John Hanlon (www.johnhanlonreviews.com): This movie deals with a lot of environmental issues, a lot of health issues, what would you advise a viewer who goes to the movie and is passionate about these ideas. Where should they go like a website that has ideas about where you can get this information. Do you use any sites in terms of pharmaceuticals you use?
Batmanglij: I can’t believe no one has asked that question. You guys keep upping the ante. I will tell you this, I think any time you get prescription for any drug–from antibiotic to any drug– you should definitely look up its side effects on the internet, which means not just the first page (which can be heavily curated from the pharmaceutical company because they can buy their way into that first page of Google searchability or whatever) but in the pages afterwards and see which side effects are temporary because temporary ones aren’t so bad and which side effects are permanent because if you’re going to take a medication that has permanent side effects, you should make sure that you really need to take that medication and that it isn’t for a suspected something or for something that isn’t life threatening. I think that’s an important thing to do.
Marling: And there are sites like Truth Dig or there’s a corporate watch site. Is it corporatewatch.org or something? Source Watch is great too. There are sites out there….
Page: Democracy Now is awesome. Amy Goodman is amazing.
John: Do you guys use these sites because it’s definitely interesting and viewers are going to go in and they’re going to say “what drugs am I taking and are they healthy for me?”
Batmanglij: The first time Ridley [Scott] saw the movie, that’s what he did… he got his drugs checked.
Lauren B: I love the twists in all of your movies, like Sound of My Voice and Inception, and I was wondering what all of your favorite twists are in a movie? Either yours or another movie?
Batmanglij: I can tell you mine. My favorite twist is The Sixth Sense.
Marling: I knew that’s what you were going to say! This isn’t really a twist but I think it is a similar breathlessness I feel about the end of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s movie Red. It has this beautiful moment at the end where it’s just metaphysically transcendent. It’s a beautiful film.
Page: I don’t know! Can I think about it?
Lauren V: Ellen, since this was Zal’s and Brit’s story, how involved were they in helping create your character or was it more a character that you understood right from reading the script?
Page: Yeah, it was just a great character to begin with and as Brit will attest, there is not always a bevy of roles for young women that are this interesting and different and strong and angry and showing lots of different spheres and dimensions of a person so I just jumped at the opportunity and hoped they let me land somewhere.
Lauren B: I was excited to see D.C. places like Clyde’s and we got to see scenes of you [Brit] running in Georgetown, so I was wondering, were there other scenes filmed in DC that you cut? What were your favorite places in the area when you guys lived here? [To Ellen] I don’t know if you have ever visited DC before, but what kind of things do you like to do here?
Marling: I loved being at Clyde’s! We went to Georgetown and spent a lot of time at Clyde’s so it was fun to shoot a scene there. We kind of did it spontaneously so Zal literally… it [Clyde’s] was closed so he walked around the back through the kitchen and asked “Can we shoot here?” The manager said no so Zal went online and Googled the headquarters and called someone at headquarters. The guy was like “oh yeah, Zal, you used to work here! Yeah, sure, you can shoot.” And Zal’s like, “the guy isn’t going to believe me”, walks back through the kitchen, finds the manager again, hands him the phone, and got permission to shoot there. We didn’t even have a costume so we went next door to J. Crew and bought a costume at J. Crew, that argyle sweater, and shot a little scene in the front of Clyde’s. It was fun.