In the sink-or-swim world of independent filmmaking, the men and women finding the most success with their low-budget gems are thriving because they collaborate with filmmaking friends.
The Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, have collaborated on several project, including festival favorites “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” and filmmakers Sean Durkin and Antonio Campos have joined forces for films such as “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Simon Killer” and “Afterschool.”
But no indie filmmaking collective is enjoying more success right now than Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij and Mike Cahill. The trio has collaborated on the critically acclaimed (and must-watch worthy) films “Another Earth” and “Sound of My Voice,” as well as the new movie “The East,” which is directed by Batmanglij and features a script he co-wrote with star Marling.
“The East,” which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, follows an intelligence operative named Sarah Moss (Marling) who goes undercover to infiltrate an anarchist collective called The East. Led by an enigmatic man named Benji (Alexander Skarsgard), the infamously reclusive group targets untouchable corporations, such as pharmaceutical and energy companies, and forces its CEOs to endure the same harmful effects their businesses have knowingly turned loose on the public. Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson and Julia Ormand co-star.
The seeds of the film were planted in the summer of 2009, before Marling and Batmanglij’s big-screen success, when the duo spent two months hopping trains across the country and living with bands of “freegans,” anti-consumerism idealists who live off discarded food.
“There’s a lot of food that has to be thrown out by the sell-by date. It just has to. Like packages of bread. All that food you see at the grocery store that’s perishable is gone by the end of the week, or by the end of 10 days. It’s just gone,” Batmanglij, who directed the film, told me. “And where does it go? It doesn’t go to a homeless shelter down the street. It doesn’t go to a church basement down the street. It doesn’t go back to the company that produced it. It isn’t sold for half-price at some half-price store. It’s just put in a dumpster. They throw it away.”
Batmanglij added, “Once we started experiencing it that summer, our minds were literally blown.”
Using the ideals of freeganism for their characters, Marling and Batmanglij turned their attention to the film’s antagonists. And rather than indulging in the popular anti-government, anti-Wall Street themes of recent years, the filmmakers chose a route they believe to be even more relevant to today’s society.
“I think anarchist movements of the past focused on being against the government or rebelling against government,” Marling explained during our interview. “It doesn’t seem as relevant now because all the power really is in the hands of multinational corporations that know no nation-state boundaries. They’re in so many countries at once with plants and people and things everywhere, and nobody’s overseeing that. There’s no jurisdiction for the multinational corporations.”
“There is jurisdiction – it’s just fines though,” Batmanglij corrected. “No one gets arrested. We’ve never seen groups of CEOs getting arrested and put into jail or be held accountable for anything they’re doing.”
However, the CEOs in “The East,” the men and women who, for instance, sell a harmful drug or pollute water supplies to the detriment of the people living around it, are forced to answer for their crimes.
“The people in this group have really particular revenge motives,” Marling explained. “They have suffered themselves or know someone who has suffered greatly at the negligence of a corporation. They’re vigilantes seeking revenge because the system doesn’t recognize the injustice.”
“The East” is not solely focused on a tale of revenge, but also explores the intimate relationships between the anarchist group’s members and Sarah’s conflict as she begins to empathize with the collective’s cause. One scene depicting the sect’s unique interactions found Marling bathing in muddy lake water with Skarsgard and two female costars. Unfortunately, being washed by the hunky “True Blood” actor was not everything she might have dreamed it would be.
“It was so cold. It was ridiculously cold,” Marling recalled. “It was also the second day of shooting and we had all really just met each other a couple days before. And it was like, ‘Hi, nice to meet you. Ok, so we’re all gonna take our clothes off now, and we’re all gonna get in the water, and we’re all gonna touch each other and we’re all gonna do that for a couple hours.’ It’s a little intense.”
She added, “But on the other side of it, there’s no icebreaker like getting naked in water with four people and bathing each other.”
“The East” is open now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to begin the process of ordering at home.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.