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Review: 'The East'

June 17, 2013 4:49 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "The East."

Related Story: Review/Interview: 'The East'

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Corporations that refuse to be held accountable for their actions are taken to task by an anarchist group in the new indie film, “The East.” KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando speaks with the filmmakers about crafting a story from their own experiences. “The East” opened over the weekend at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas and AMC La Jolla.

“The East” is the third film written by and starring Brit Marling. And once again she impresses. She rejects the limitations Hollywood tends to place on women so instead of being an actress who writes chick flicks she is an artist who opts for complex studies of characters, and she ventures into genres like sci-fi. For “The East,” she once again she teams with director Zal Batmanglij.

BRIT MARLING: The first thing we think about, that I think a lot about in particular as a woman who wants to act is creating complex, layered, female characters, and female characters who are driving the action in the film or acting with agency instead of having all these things happen to them.

That’s so refreshing. Because not only is Marling’s character driving the story but she’s also a character going through complex changes. Marling plays Sara, a woman who infiltrates an anarchist group known for dispensing its own brand of justice against corrupt or indifferent corporations.

CLIP Another corporate executive has been targeted by the eco-activist group The East.

CLIP We need someone to get inside The East. Who would you choose?... Me. I’m unexpected. Being unexpected is the only advantage that we have.

Marling and Batmanglij drew on their own experiences hitting the road in 2009.

ZAL BATMANGLIJ: We decided to go explore America but rather than doing the surface road trip we decided to go into America’s underworld. Or what we considered the underworld, which was we wanted to see how different groups were living off the grid so we went to some anarchist farms, we went to a direct action collectives, we crisscrossed the country living in different squats and having an experience that totally opened our eyes and stayed with us. It stayed with us so much that we couldn’t really shake it.

So they turned it into a movie that mixes the intense action of a thriller with thoughtful political commentary. Batmanglij says they present two sides in the film.

ZAL BATMANGLIJ: The anarchists who are committing the eye for an eye justice or direct action and then there are the corporations… and so the anarchist collective is imagined, but the corporations are all based on real corporations.

BRIT MARLING: That’s what’s kind of scary about this thriller it’s not an imagined antagonist, it’s real life.

The anarchists in “The East” target corporations that have been implicated in oil spills and pharmaceutical cover ups. Events taken straight from the headlines says Batmanglig.
ZAL BATMANGLIJ: For the people who experience an oil spill or are poisoned by pharmaceuticals, it’s very emotional. But for the people who are the heads of these companies, there’s such a remove between them and the people who are suffering the direct result of their direct actions.

BRIT MARLING: It’s not like the 60s or 70s, like young kids were rebelling, now it seems like there’s a massive malcontent, like everyone looks at the BP oil spill and is like this doesn’t make sense that this happened, or how poorly the clean up was handled or how no one was held accountable. So I think when in the film there’s that oil spill jam at the beginning and the CEO of an oil company is having an oil spill brought to his house, it doesn’t really matter if you are on the left or the right side of the political spectrum, everyone kind of feels like some sort of gratification at the idea of holding someone accountable for these crimes.

The film deserves credit, though, for not simplifying the situation. The corporations are not monolithically evil and the collective of anarchists wrestles with troubling moral questions says Marling.

BRIT MARLING: The group has some success and they want to keep going and the question becomes how does it work with means to an end, like if you harm people but some greater good or some greater awakening is achieved, is that okay?

CLIP An eye for an eye it can’t be more, it can’t be less.

BRIT MARLING: In our film you see the group wrestle with this and they have that big argument where some people want to take it a lot farther because they feel an eye for an eye justice means if someone’s been harmed we can harm back to that exact degree and other people in the group are saying well wait a second if we’re doing that kind of damage aren’t we just as bad as the force we’re fighting.

The film avoids simplistic moral judgments and tidy resolutions to deliver something compelling and thoughtful. Ultimately, it concludes there are no easy answers but that doesn’t stop it from asking provocative questions.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.