Filmmaker Zal Batmanglij talks ‘The East’

Writer/director Zal Batmanglij, whose film credits include “Sound of My Voice,” recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about his new thriller “The East.”

In “The East,” which opened Friday, June 14 at movie theaters throughout the Valley, Brit Marling plays an operative for an elite private intelligence firm who finds her priorities irrevocably changed after she is tasked with infiltrating an anarchist group known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations.

Question: Tell me about the research that you conducted for this film. What did you do and who did you speak with?

Answer: It was not so much that we did research for this movie. We just went on the road in order to explore our own lives. We wanted to have an American adventure – not on the surface of things but in the underworld, to see how people lived different ways of life with more meaning. We saw anarchist farmers, freegan collectives and direct action groups. It was really fun because we let go. And when you let go, adventure rises up to meet you halfway. That was cool and we could not shake that experience so we decide to write a thriller in that setting.

Q: What was the most significant thing that you learned during your experience on the road?

A: As a general rule, nothing is as it seems. When I used to read about things like dumpster diving, it seemed so other. I used to laugh or raise an eyebrow. But when you realize just how much food is wasted, thrown away into dumpsters and headed to a landfill, you think, “How could I have been so naïve to have laughed at that?” It is a real crisis. I don’t think that we share enough information about what is really going on. The environment is being destroyed. We are part of the environment. We are just animals on this planet. So we are being destroyed, too. And I think that people don’t want to talk about it – probably because it is too much close to home these days.

Q: Tell me about the tone of this movie. And, more importantly, how did you achieve said tone?

A: When we were in the East house, I wanted to use as much natural light as possible – like candlelight and torchlight. I also wanted sound to be a part of the landscape so we worked a lot on creating the sound of the East house. It is really alive. You can hear it creak. That makes the house less intimate which then allows the sweetness of the characters toward each other and their intimacy to sort of shine. That house is not necessarily a cozy place. But the way that they interact within the house heightens the intimacy of each scene.

Q: What was your intent for this film – particularly with respect to the way in which it ended?

A: I wanted to make a movie that would reach the broadest amount of people as possible. I wanted this to be a movie that you can catch late at night on cable and it’s not just slickly dark or slickly aggressive. Instead, it is something intimate. I think that intimacy and vulnerability are things that we don’t usually show in movies. And I like to leave a film was some hope. I don’t want to leave the theater feeling nihilism.

Q: Finally, what did this film teach you about yourself?

A: I think that I learned that we are what we do every day and we are who we work with everyday. [The cast and crew] were extraordinary. I loved going to work every day with these people and I realized just how important that is. I felt very lucky to go to work every day with those people and it became a touchstone for me to try and get to be so lucky to work with people like that for all of my future projects.

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at

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