33: Brit Marling, SDFF Auteur Award Recipient
September 30, 2015 3:40 p.m.
Episode 33: Brit Marling, SDFF Auteur Award Recipient
Actress, writer, and producer Brit Marling will receive the San Diego Film Festival 2015 Auteur Award this Saturday. Here are a pair of interviews I did with her in 2011 and 2013.
Related Story: Podcast Episode 33: SDFF Auteur Award Recipient Brit Marling
Beth A: Welcome back to the KBPS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. I’m posting my interview podcast early this week in order to highlight the San Diego Film Festival kicking off on September 30th. Each year the festival gives out tribute awards to various people in the industry. This year there are four awards according to Tonya Mantooth, the festival’s Vice President and Director of Programming.
Tonya M: So, we have Adrian Brody, who’s receiving the Cinema Vanguard Award; we have Jeena Davis, who’s getting the Humanitarian Award for her work around gender bias and gender equality in media; and then Brit Marling is receiving the Auteur Award. She’s an interesting, interesting woman, super smart, takes on a lot of roles in the industry, writer, producer, actress; and then we have John Boyega, who has really just…I mean, he has just come out on the scene, but everyone will really know him in a very short amount of time because he’s starring in the new Star Wars and he’s receiving the Rising Star Award.
Beth A: Okay, the one that caught my attention is the one for Brit Marling. Kudos to the festival for highlighting someone who is by no means a household name, and who creates challenging films outside the Hollywood system! Marling is an actress, producer, and writer, whose credits include Another Earth, The Sound of My Voice, The East and I Origins. What I admire about Marling is that she’s not merely focused on creating positive female role models, something that I personally find rather boring, I want complex, real, flawed women on the screen and Marling delivers that, and more. She works on innovative projects, often in genre films that serve up strong, intelligent, but imperfect women, but these are women who are also driving the movies forward. They are not only reactive and they don’t just let things happen to them, they’re catalysts that accelerate the plot and make it move forward. Mantooth was excited about having Marling as one of this year’s award recipients.
Tonya M: So, Brit Marling, I’ve always respected her work. I find that she brings a lot of intelligence to whatever she’s doing, so whether she’s writing it, or she’s producing it, or she’s acting in it, you know, she brings a certain depth to her performance. She isn’t interested in just looking good, although she’s beautiful, but it’s really more important in the story, and so, I love that and I wanted to chance to honor her, and that’s why she is the Auteur Award, because she really does span across many, many aspects of the industry.
Beth A: In honor of Marling receiving the Auteur Award, I’m serving up two interviews I did with her. First is an interview from 2011, with her and creative partner for Another Earth, Mike Cahill; and then, the interview I did in 2013 with her for The East. In Another Earth, Brit Marling plays Rhoda Williams, a young woman accepted into MIT’s astrophysics program so that she can travel to what has been discovered as a duplicate earth, but the story is also about guilt and accepting one’s responsibility for one’s actions. Let’s listen to the trailer.
[Movie Trailer] [0:03:04] to [0:05:07]
Beth A: And here’s the interview.
Brit M: My name is Brit Marling, I play Rhoda Williams in Another Earth, which I co-wrote with Mike and produced.
Mike C: Hi, my name is Mike Cahill, and I’m the director off Another Earth and co-writer, cinematographer, editor, producer and caterer.
Brit M: He did everything.
Beth A: So, Mike, can you tell me where, or both of you, where the idea for this came from, where it first started?
Mike: The idea for Another Earth came, actually, from a very, an emotional question, which is, what would you feel if you could confront another version of yourself? And we were interested in the idea of a doppelganger or a connected soul, and then we took that idea and extrapolated it so that everyone on the planet could experience that, so all 6.3 billion of us are living a parallel life up in the sky. Inside that larger context we tell a romantic drama, thriller about Rhoda Williams who’s seeking some sort of redemption, forgiveness for a crime that she committed in the past.
Beth A: Now you also play the lead and you co-wrote, so when you were writing it, what kind of things were you thinking about wanting to like, give yourself as an actress to do?
Brit M: I think as an actor, you’re always looking to take something on that makes you nervous. Like, if you get a nervous feeling in your stomach as you’re reading the material because you’re not quite sure you can pull it off, is like it’s a stretch requirement, and I think I always felt that about Rhoda. Like she has had such an intense experience that has thrust her so outside the realm of just… like a normal human life and that grief, that suffering she’s going through is overwhelming and then making sure that she’s not a character who’s passive and a victim in that grief. I mean, Mike and I talked a lot about that when we were writing. That we wanted her to have agency and have a, sort of, I don’t know, almost like this warrior like energy in the way that she’s trying to like deal with the grief and figure out how to construct a meaningful life in the wake of what has happened.
Beth A: One of the things that I really liked about the film is that on a certain level you can categorize it as science fiction because of some of the elements that are in it, but you really put the science fiction kind of in the background and the human elements in the foreground, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that?
Mike C: Sure. I mean, this is a movie that at its core, it’s a drama, so it can be set in any setting, it can be set in San Diego, it can be set at the bottom of the sea or it can be set in a world where there’s another earth looming above, and I wanted the science fiction to be very minimalist, just to ask that one question. So in the foreground it’s this really intense human drama which, you know, zooms into something about what it means to be human, what it means to seek forgiveness and the big aura above the earth up in the sky helps to form the bigger decisions, visualizes those feelings that we have about, you know, like it’s weird because we wake up in the morning and we look in the mirror and we have this running monologue in our heads, like, why did you do this? Or, what are you going to do? Or, are you doing something meaningful? All these questions, but it’s the only relationship in our lives that is internal. Every… like our friends, our family are external. We have all these emotions towards the people around us, but the one inside, it’s so contained and if we could just pull it out and get a new perspective on it, that would be pretty powerful, and so, we liked that idea and we played with that idea and that’s it, that’s where the science fiction ends. It’s, there’s a duplicate earth, but here’s a drama set within that context.
Beth A: I think it’s interesting your film’s coming out right now because there’s going to be the 25th anniversary of The Man Who Fell to Earth, which has a similar feel in terms of putting that science fiction in the background.
Mike C: Right, in the background, yeah.
Beth A: And making it this human story. I mean, how was that for you, playing the character?
Brit M: It’s wonderful because I think, I don’t know, I think we all consume so many stories now and there’re so much stories and films and we watch, so many things, that our story intelligence is so high, like audiences are beginning to predict things before they’re coming. Sci-Fi is cool because it’s telling you a human drama, this sort of thriller, love story, but it’s putting a fresh lens on it and its forcing choices that you’ve never seen before and it’s forcing these characters to confront one another in ways that you’ve never seen before and that’s the cool thing, I think, about science fiction.
Beth A: At the screening last night, a lot of people were coming out, people really enjoyed the film, but they were talking about, like they were feeling not everything was tied up for them, so how as a filmmaker were you, kind of, is this the kind of effect you wanted?
Mike C: Absolutely. For me, I think, as filmmakers, as creators of a piece of art, it’s a process where there’s a commune between the makers and the audience, and I like to think about it like a bridge. Like we’re, there’s this river and we’re trying to build this bridge and we lay brick by brick by brick as the filmmakers and we may go more than halfway, like 90% of the way across, and then, ideally, the audience will build some bricks to connect. They will project themselves up on screen, they will connect, they will reach forward and then when we unite, that’s where the emotional transference goes down, and for me like as a film audience member, I love that experience where I can be engaged and I can reach forward and connect with the story, so that’s very important too. We don’t want to leave it too ambiguous because most of the answers of what happens in the story with the big reveals and twists, it’s in there; but I like it being open to interpretation and thought provoking. I think those are the kind of films I love.
Beth A: Well, your films seem like a truly independent, like, we get a lot of film that are labeled independent but are really just from the smaller branch of a big studio, but this feels more like a throwback to films like Pie and Primer.
Mike C: Absolutely.
Beth A: Why do you think there aren’t more films like that made?
Brit M: I think it’s interesting. I think there was a real shift at Sundance this year and I think that all this year you’re going to see these films come out like Take Shelter and Like Crazy and Circumstance. These films that have really ambitious stories, you know. The smallness of the budget was not constraining to the imagination, and I think that’s because I think the technology is coming to a place where cameras are just small and lightweight and everybody’s final cut pro and all the special effects you can create from your laptop in your dorm room, in your apartment, like in your tree fort, whatever.
Mike C: We made this movie in a tree fort.
Brit M: We kind of made this movie in a tree fort. You can kind of do whatever you want now, it’s just about work ethic, you know, and the ambitiousness of the ideas, I guess, and I really felt from Sundance this year there’s a new wave.
Mike C: There’s a new wave, yeah.
Beth A: That would be nice.
Mike C: It feels like it for sure. I think so too, completely. I feel a lot of hope for independent cinema. There’re new voices, there’re stories that are coming in at an angle that’s fresh and to be included among all the other voices at Sundance is really awesome.
Beth A: Do you also feel that having a smaller budget and not having studio executives looking over your shoulder, that in some ways, that gives you a lot of freedom?
Mike C: Absolutely, absolutely. The beauty of constraints is, budget is a constraint of course, we can’t explode crazy things, we can’t have the ocean suck up and fly up into the sky. There are certain things you cannot do with a limited budget, but it allows, you don’t have the oversight necessary and you, at all, actually, and you have to, you have to be very clever in the way that you tell your story. Especially, as Brit was telling you, if they are very ambitious, the ideas are big and one of the cool things about filmmaking is a single image can suggest so much more. It can serve as a metonymy for a larger idea and so we took advantage of that idea, that notion and, I don’t know, it also allows the audience to imagine, to engage their imagination and let it soar, and it allows us to do interesting things on a budget, but be very clever about the way you approach it.
Brit M: And also, like, rely on story. I mean, one of the things that’s so crazy with CGI, you can do anything now, so if there’s a problem, you throw CGI at it and it becomes all about spectacle and there’s no story, like framework, underneath and what’s great about not having that much money is like your story framework better be really solid because that’s what you’re relying on.
Beth A: Well, it seems like you have to be more creative and inventive to get your story told when you have constraints like a smaller budget or a lack of big studio support in terms of CGI or whatever else you might need.
Mike C: Hmm, but we did a car crash, there’s a car crash in the film and now, this car crash probably should have cost about $300,000 but, I managed to do it for about a hundred bucks, and it’s just about the way you approach things. So I wanted to do this shot that was a birds eye shot that starts looking through a sunroof and William and his wife are having a dialogue, and then I wanted to crane up, crane up, crane up and then Rhoda comes recklessly flying into the frame, smashes it and glass is everywhere and, you know, if we had a lot of money, I would have done it exactly the same way because it’s a birds eye shot. It’s a view from the other earth, and here, in this case, a friend of mine was a police officer and the best man at his wedding was the traffic coordinator of all of New Haven, and so he closed off a four-lane stretch of highway for free for us and we went to a junkyard and found two cars, for free, that looked like they smashed into each other and the junkyard guys were like, yeah, yeah, take them, it’s fine. Just bring them back when you’re finished, and instead of having a crane, we rented a cherry picker, like the thing where you clean windows, from Hertz for $50 and somehow with all of this clever approach to production, we were able to make this amazing shot that happens on screen, it happened for a hundred bucks.
Beth A: One of the scenes that I really liked too, was when you tell that story about the cosmonaut and so, I was wondering if you could talk about where that came from, had you heard that before, was that something you made up, I don’t know?
Brit M: Yeah. Our friend, Josh actually told us that story a long time ago and then later on, I guess he forgot he had told us this story, and later on when he watched it, he was like, oh, that’s funny, my dad used to tell me that story when I was a kid.
[Movie Trailer] [0:16:08] to [0:18:44]
Brit M: We took a lot of poetic license. I think the original story is a little different and we wanted to try to twist it a bit to make it about like, what if there is this aggravating sound and you can switch it and make it about music, which was so right for John. If you can change the thing that life is so much about point of view, and if you can change your point of view, the very thing that is like the greatest source of annoyance for you can become inspiration instead, and so we took a little poetic license with the original story, but that was the seed.
Beth A: Now both of you have worked in, or came to this from some documentary work, how do you think that influenced the way you approached this film?
Mike C: A few different ways, documentaries they… one, you’re just telling stories, and so you’re building your confidence with the craft and how to construct work and then, two, probably more importantly, you’re dealing in the realm of authenticity because these are real people that you’re filming, and one of the things that you learn about real life is that human reactions to situations are not as obvious or clichéd as we might think they are originally. So and that in terms of the writing process is fascinating because of the way someone would react to, for example, a car crash or the way someone would react to hearing their… a family member has died or the way someone would really react to real things in life is so unusual. Like humans, we’re such unusual beings, us humans. Maybe it’ll cause laughter, you know. Maybe the worst tragedy will cause you to laugh, which is weird, right. It doesn’t seem right, but that, understanding that authenticity is great, especially when you’re constructing your story because the more unusual the behavior, sometimes the more authentic it is, and so, when doing a fictional film, you keep that in mind, especially in the writing process, and then the dialing of the tone and aesthetic choice and performance.
Beth A: I also read somewhere that you had also done cinematography as well, I mean, you seem to have covered quite a bit of crafts on your way to acting.
Brit M: Yeah. I don’t… I think I was really searching for what I wanted to do and it’s sometimes it’s hard to figure that out for a while. I tried a lot of different things and I think I eventually came to the thing that the most challenging thing for me was acting. That was just the hardest thing to do, it is. It’s asking so much of you. You have to really, you arrive on set and there’s all these lights and things and casts going on, but you have to be so strong in your imagination of the story that you just connect with the human being in front of you and all that dissolves away.
Mike C: Brit is so talented in everything that she does, that’s very important. She has that weird gift where if she wants to be a marine biologist, she will be the most brilliant marine biologist. If she wants to be an astronaut, she will be the...
Brit M: That’s not true at all.
Mike C: So, wait. No, she was valedictorian, 4.0, top of Georgetown, everything she pursued, she pursues exceptionally well, because she’s gifted, she’s intelligent, she approaches things with hard work and rigor and I think that acting is probably one of the most difficult things to do well because if you’re doing it well, you need to be moved, you need to move yourself so that you can move someone else and you need to inhabit a person and it’s not as easy as you think. It’s actually one of the most difficult challenges. And I think, when you were surveying the land of things to do, that seemed to be the most challenging, and so the choice to do that is a brave one, I think. Coming from who she is and what she’s capable of, just needed to say that.
Brit M: This coming from the guy who directed, wrote, shot ,and edited the movie, I mean, like, yeah.
Beth A: Now that the film is done, what do you feel most proud of about it?
Brit M: You know what’s so funny about it? It’s really funny that when you make something, you have no idea what it is until other people tell you, and I remember the first screening at Sundance and afterwards, there was a particular woman whose reaction moved me so much. It was like, we have these conversations, we’re trying to get to know one another, but somehow there’s always this guard up, you know. Somehow, that we build from childhood maybe, it’s like this protective layer. Something about a movie can really unravel that, and you meet people afterwards and that guard is just down and they’re really honestly moved and that to me was shocking. I didn’t know that when you said, I thought we were making something that would provoke a sense of wonder and we were feeling that about the cosmos and we were doing all this research in space, but I don’t think you ever know that you would could maybe have made something that would like viscerally impact people you know, make them sort of speechless, and take their breath away for a moment, and that was to me, it’s still shocking, I can’t get over that.
Mike C: Our ambitions were like, well, let’s try and move one another and let’s show it to our ten closest friends and that’s it.
Brit M: We were literally thinking about the living room space in Mike’s apartment. I was like, okay, when we show this movie to, like, how many people can we fit in Mike’s living room? Well, like 25 people, so we never…
Mike C: Yeah, it was like an experiment and to then get accepted into Sundance, to screen there and have such a wonderful response, and to have Fox Searchlight pick it up and bring it out to the world is like the dream that we didn’t even allow ourselves to dream because it was so big, and so, it’s just been an amazing last six months, five-six months.
Beth A: Who would you say has influenced your…are there any other films that you looked to while you were making this that you felt a connection with?
Mike C: There is one, many, I mean, I guess I’m a film geek. I eat up films like crazy, but there’s one director in particular that moved me in a certain way, which is this director Krzysztof Kieslowski, he’s this French-Polish director and he makes movies in French and Poland, and he made this film called Double Life of Veronique and it’s about a girl who has a doppelganger. And what I thought was so fascinating about it is, it’s like, I think deep down us humans, we have this primal yearning to connect and we have this strange situation, as humans, of having a singular perspective on the world. We’re, like, alone. You’re born alone, no matter how many people are around, you know that no matter how close your friends are, your family, you are ultimately viewing the world from a singular point of view, alone, and so, the notion of another version of you, it’s not just cool.
Like we think it’s cool, like, oh, wouldn’t that be cool if, it’s actually primal, it’s the sub-conscious desire that we have, and so, I felt that in his filmmaking. He also made the three colors, the red, white and blue series and there’s a certain magic in the mundane that he’s capable of drawing and I thought that was very inspiring. I love Julian Schnabel, he made a movie called Basquiat [phonetic] [0:26:01], which is my favorite movie and it really inspired me to be a filmmaker. The freedom of the artistic stroke in the way he approaches scenes and puts things up on the screen. Yeah, I mean, so many, so many sources of inspiration.
Beth A: Okay, well, thank you both very much.
Mike C: Thank you for having us.
Brit M: Thank you for having us.
Beth A: That was my interview with Brit Marling for the film, Another Earth. Two years later, Marling would write, produce and star in The East, a thriller about an anarchist group that holds corporations accountable for their actions. Here’s the trailer to set the tone.
[Movie Trailer] [0:26:38 to 0:28:11] and here’s my second interview with Brit Marling.
Zal B: Hi, I’m Zal Batmanglij and I wrote this film with Brit Marling and I directed it.
Brit M: And I’m Brit Marling, and I wrote this film with Zal and I acted in it and produced it.
Beth A: Tell me what you guys took from your own experiences to put into writing this film? It seems like there’s some personal elements.
Zal B: I wanted to be a director and I had just graduated from AFI’s graduate directing program, and Brit wanted to be an actress and we were, sort of starving and struggling in Los Angeles and waiting for permission for someone to give us the green light to do these things, to direct and to act, but no one did. They are hard things to break into; so we decided, because we were limited economically and the economy had just crashed, this was the summer of 2009; 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 of the grid, so we went to some anarchist farms, we went to direct action collectives, we crisscrossed the country living in different squats and having an experience which totally opened our eyes and stayed with us. It stayed with us so much that we couldn’t really shake it and that’s why we had to write a movie, to sort of make sense of it.
Brit M: Yes, you told that very well, I’m trying to think of what to add. I think, something really happened to us that summer. There was something major that took place and when we came back to LA, I think one of the things we’d learned the most from being on the road and on this… the power of the collective. These groups found so much meaning out of living together, sharing together and working together, that kind of tribal feeling, which I think, you know, modern life has become a bit alienating. We’ve broken away from the extended family, and now we’re breaking away from the nuclear family, and it’s all about the pursuit of the individual. And I think when we came back we were like, wow, this thing of value that we really have is each other and we’ve been making films together with our friend Mike Cahill since we were kids at Georgetown, and that’s the thing of value and forget trying to break into this system in LA, why don’t we make our own system, why don’t we make movies in our own way, and so, we just started making stuff and we made this film, Another Earth, The Sound of My Voice, and very much sort of inspired by the collectivist feeling and the idea of direct action. Like just doing something instead of, sort of, waiting for some people to tell you you can do something, so that was we were really inspired by that summer.
Zal B: We’re still inspired by that and, you know, this is our second movie that uses our second filming. We’re excited to make our third and again, not wait for permission because not like that ends, everybody’s constantly waiting for permission. I mean, how many times do we see some big movie star talk about some dream project they have and you’re like, how did you just make that movie.
Beth A: Does that reflect, I mean, in the film there’s a sense of frustration with the system and things breaking down, did you feel like that’s one thing you identified with them?
Zal B: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think it’s a hallmark of our generation that we’re just so frustrated by the way things are run, they seem to be run so badly. Maybe that’s a hallmark of any generation when they’re young, is that they see, they look around and they are like, why are things the way they are?
Brit M: What’s interesting about now is that it feels like it’s not just about young people, it’s everyone, you know. It’s not like the way the 60s or 70s, like young kids were rebelling and saying this doesn’t make sense, now it feels like there’s a massive malcontent. Like everyone looks at the BP oil spill and it’s like this doesn’t make sense that this happened, or how poorly the cleanup was handled or how no one was held accountable. So I think in the film when 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 whether you’re in the right or left side of the political spectrum, everyone kind of feels some sort of gratification at the idea of holding someone accountable for these crimes really.
Zal B: Right, making these crimes emotional, for the people who experience an oil spill or a poison by pharmaceuticals, it’s very emotional, but for the people who are at the heads of these companies, there’s such a remove between them and the people who are suffering as a direct result of their direct actions. I think that’s a really rich thing to explore and we sort of try to do that in this film. Like, for example, the Vice President of the pharmaceutical company, she keeps talking about how people would write her letters or they would write the company letters about what damage the drug they had taken that was made by the company had caused, and yet she thought that they were just trying to make claims for a law suit and then when she experiences it herself, you know, it becomes emotional.
Beth A: This is a work of fiction, in the sense of the characters you’ve created are not real characters, and yet, talk a little bit about the peripheral details are not fiction. Like the things that deal with the pharmaceuticals and with the oil spill.
Brit M: We were inspired by that summer on the road and there are some scenes in the film that are loosely inspired by things that had happened, like the spin the bottle scene, and the sort of feeling of wanting to break down walls of intimacy and connect with one another, but the characters are all completely products of our imagination, but a lot of the events themselves are not. Like the oil spill, or the pharmaceutical drug that has all these adverse side effects that people are suffering from, or the chemicals that are being dumped in the water and the kids who are taking baths in this water filled with arsenic and getting brain tumors and, these things are all literally just ripped out of the headlines of the New York Times and a PBS special that was done on drugs that cause these side effects and so, that’s what’s kind of scary about this thriller, is that it’s not an imagined antagonist, it’s real life that’s happening so….
Zal B: Yeah, so there are two sides in the movie. There’s the anarchists who are committing the an eye for an eye justice, the direct action, and then there are the corporations who are coming together to hire Brit’s character, Sarah Moss, who’s this conservative, religious character and they hire her in order for her to infiltrate this anarchist collective, and so, the anarchist collective is imagined, but the corporations are all based on real corporations.
Beth A: The films that you’ve done, what’s interesting about them is that they aren’t very clear black and white issues. There’s a level of complexity that makes the entire film and their characters very interesting, so like how are you approaching this? Is that something you feel very strongly about?
Brit M: I mean, I think when we sit down to write, the first thing we think a lot about and I think a lot about in particular, as a woman who wants to act, is writing complex, layered, female characters that we’ve done and female characters who are driving the action of the film, who are acting with agency instead of having all these things happening to them. So we think about that a lot when we sit down to write. I think we also think about how to tell stories that people haven’t seen before. I mean, we’re all consuming narrative now, it’s like binge watching, you know, enlightened and The Wire and Homeland, and so, I think most people have a really high story education, so they know when something happens in a love story or in the thriller, they know all the ropes of the genre, they know what’s going to happen next, and so, we’re always trying to take a bunch of different things, a bunch of genres and mix them together and find something new at the center so that people are still actually on the edge of their seat wondering what’s going to happen next and...
Zal B: Yeah, but don’t you feel that’s the world we’re living in right now? It’s hard, it’s really hard. I would like to just pick a side, I would love to say that I’m a Democrat and they never make a mistake, you know, but that’s such a Republican thing to do.
Beth A: But that’s also with a lot of things. I mean, that’s why it’s so admirable to see in a film because we don’t get it very often. A lot of times films and audiences, like a film will tell you what you should think and audiences kind of want to be told what to think because they don’t want to have to do the work.
Brit M: That’s such an interesting thing to say, because maybe I’m so interested to hear that because I think that’s maybe why this film has been such… conversations after have been so fruitful. I think people are hungry to talk about things and I think they are hungry to try to make sense of the time they’re living in, and you’re right, there’s a lot of storytelling and content out there attempting to simplify everything and make everything digestible in a time when that’s really not the case. So, I don’t know, I guess we’ve been trying to just make sense of our experience and maybe that is what’s going on in this film. It’s that there are no, we are not giving any prescriptions or answers because we really don’t have any, but we do have a lot of questions and we do want to talk with other people about it, and filmmaking is such a cool way to paint a world and then bring other people into it and talk there maybe.
Zal B: And have that conversation about these issues. Maybe later when we have more answers in our own lives, we’ll have more answers in the films we make or in the stories we tell, but right now, we’re really in that questioning period.
Beth A: Well, in all three of the films you’ve written, there is this sense of, kind of, going under cover, you know why? I mean, all three of your characters aren’t necessarily what they seem to everyone and I was wondering what kind of fascinates you where that is concerned?
Brit M: Like, what’s going on? It’s funny because I never thought of Another Earth as an infiltration story, but I realize the farther away I get from it, because I was so interested in the world of her grief and what she’s going through and the idea of if you have a version of your life that gets set on fire, how do you make a new life out of the ashes of a former life? I was so preoccupied with that, that I didn’t think so much about the infiltration part, but of course, she’s lying and the big threat of the story is what happens when she gets caught. I think maybe Mike and Zal, I think maybe we’re all circling around this because, of course, we all live together and were talking a lot at the time of all this, is that we ourselves were trying to find our identities and, I think, when you’re in your 20’s you spend all this time, you’ve left your families, you’ve left college and now you’re out in the world and you’re infiltrating different groups, trying on different tribes, trying to figure out what’s the band of people you want to be with? Who are you exactly? So, I think that’s why the obsession with infiltration and identity and espionage and trying on characters. I mean, Sarah Moss changes her name, changes her hair color changes how she dresses, picks up a new language and spends time in another world. I don’t think you would be in deep cover if you were fully settled in yourself. It takes a particular kind of person to be attracted to acting with such high stakes that if you get caught you’re going to be in a lot of trouble, so I think...
Zal B: This is the same thing that motivates actors. I mean, what is Daniel Day Lewis becoming Lincoln other than deep cover?
Beth A: You had a screening here in San Diego last night, how did you feel about the audience response because you had a Q&A, were you surprised by any of the questions or any of the reactions?
Zal B: Well, it was funny because it was a pure Q&A, so you didn’t set it up for them at all, so what’s funny with a pure Q&A is that the audience is just feeding off each other. Like, usually if the moderator just sets it up a bit, everyone follows suit and the questions will all, sort of similarly fall in line, but what I liked about yesterday was that it was kind of a wild animal. It could go in any direction, and it kind of did, but it was the same as most of our, actually all of our Q&As, which is that people are hungry to talk about the issues in this movie. There’re lots of different points of entry. You can come at it from the perspective of former, there were former activists in the audience, there were anti-nuclear activists, he really connected with the film. Earlier, we’d had a screening earlier in the day and person had also connected with the activism. Then there was someone from, not in yesterday’s screening, but there was someone from a… a pharmaceutical rep and that person had been very moved and was questioning themselves. I mean, so like, different, there’s lots of different ways of entering this movie, which I find really cool.
Brit M: It’s also interesting when, like last night, when the very young are engaged and interested, and people who have been activists are just, for years, people who are in their 60s and 70s, are also watching it and feeling like it’s speaking to them.
Zal B: Right, the idea that they were some very young people in the audience and some very old people in the audience, and they were both like…
Brit M: Felt the movie was for them, yeah.
Zal B: Yeah, exactly.
Beth A: One thing I’m curious about too, we have this film and The Company You Keep, which deals with activism also, but from this older perspective and in a very different way. You have something like Breaking Bad, what all these films seem to deal with is the sense of your actions has consequences and so, for your film, if you can talk, because the characters are very different in terms of kind of how they view their actions and the results.
Brit M: Yeah, I mean, I think this, what happens in The East is even what I think happens with a lot of resistance movements, and I’m sure even whether they’re underground, is that, which is what Robert’s film is about, is that the breakup often happens over the disagreement about how far is too far. Like, the group has 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? I think, in our film you, sort of, see the group wrestle over that 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 has been harmed, we can harm back to that exact degree. And other people in the group are saying, wait a second, if we’re doing that kind of damage, aren’t we just as bad as the force we’re fighting? And I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. I think we’re all still struggling with that.
Zal B: I don’t know the answer to that question, do you?
Beth A: No, but I didn’t make the film. That’s why you get to be on the hot seat. I think that was the last question, so thank you very much.
Zal B: Thank you.
Brit M: Thank you.
Beth A: Thanks for listening to the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Brit Marling will receive the San Diego Film Festival Auteur Award on Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, San Diego, at La Hoya. Her films are available online and I highly recommend checking them all out. And remember to check back for my film review of The Martian and a roundup of alternative San Diego Cinema Fair. So till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie.