"Your beliefs are always coming into question; it's a hallmark of our time; it's very hard to believe fully in something," said director Zal Batmanglij, who in the last year has emerged as one of the most exciting and innovative voices in a new wave of American film. With a style that blends both intimate drama with high-concept thrill, his evocative debut Sound of My Voice—a film that mixed science fiction, psychological drama, and ethnographic study—left us eagerly awaiting just what he would have in store for us next. And to our delight, we didn't have to wait long. His sophomore feature The East premiered this January at Sundance to a warm reception and, thanks to Fox Searchlight, his wholly important eco-thriller will be hitting theaters this May.
Penned by Batmangij and Brit Marling, his collaborator and star, the film explores similar themes as Sound of My Voice, with investigation of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and questions of personal belief. Batmangij and Marling seem to share a cinematic language; while Batmanglij has a knack for exploring the anxieties that plague our modern age, harkening back to a bygone era of political and social thrillers, Marling possesses an ineffable grace and intelligence that's as fierce in her writing as it is in performance, both capturing the metaphysical nature inherent in human connection.
And with The East, we follow Marling as Sarah, a young ex-FBI agent now working for an elite private intelligence firm who is hired to infiltrate an anarchist collective that is rumored to be attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to come in contact with the harm they've inflicted on the masses. But in her time spent with the collective known as The East, her beliefs begin to waver as she starts to sympathize with the group's leaders and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.
But what makes the film so exciting is that Batmanglij has made something totally important to our generation that speaks to where we're at and where we're going in a way that hasn't been touched on in modern cinema. The East feels like the first film to breathe a young voice into an issue so embedded in our current society, but in a way that's more personal than polemic. There's an emotional authenticity behind the thrill, making it something you can feel as well as enjoy.
"We're not trying to hit anyone over the head with these ideas," Batmanglij told me. "We're trying to plant these seeds so they will grow, because I think it's much more important that these ideas grow inside of people than it is that they come out changed. A film shouldn't be too intellectual in the making of or the watching of, but much later they can be—little seeds that just pop up and make you question things."
And today we're pleased to share the new poster for The East highlighting Marling as well as her striking co-stars Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgård. In addition, you can now explore the film's awesome official website here at WeAreTheEast.com.
The East will premiere in Austin this weekend as the closing night film of this year’s SXSW Film Festival. Batmanglij, Marling, Page, and Skarsgard will all be in attendence when the the film screens at 8pm at the Paramount Theater on Sunday, March 16th.