A Conversation With Director Zal Batmanglij on His New Film ‘The East’

Ever since the end credits rolled on Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature Sound of My Voice, I have been anticipating just what his next cinematic endeavor would offer. Upon seeing his first, I was immediately drawn to he and co-writer/actress Brit Marling’s brilliant simpatico and their shared affinity for storytelling that’s both beautifully poetic yet intelligently thought-provoking. And as two of the most interesting and wholly inspiring voices in independent cinema, the two have once again struck audiences with their new film, eco-thriller The East, which opened to rave reviews last week. 

Their seductive and haunting Sound of My Voice, captivated us with a style that amalgamated science fiction, psychological drama, high-concept thrill, and ethnographic study. "So much of what Brit and I have to do as writers is to go live,” says Batmanglij, understanding the importance of “living something authentic” in order to come back and tell an original story. And although the two have their own unique sensibilities as writers—Batmanglij with a zeal or creating stories that stem from the anxieties of the modern age as shown through a lens that exposes the mysticism lurking just beneath the surface, and Marling holding an ineffable quality existing somewhere between serene grace and fierce intelligence that allows us to be mesmerized by just about anything she does.
Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. 
And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling. The film follows Sarah (played by Marling), 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 (Alexander Skarsgard and Ellen Page) and opens her eyes to the wrong doings that so easily go unnoticed.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Batmanglij, who has become one of not only my favorite new filmmakers but one of the most interesting interview subjects, to discuss the insightful reactions to The East, he and Marling’s creative process, and what a film like this means in today’s culture.
What’s been interesting to see with the film is how people have been reacting across the board. It’s not only young, more politically active people that have been responding well. 
Definitely. And older women love the movie—I think they connected to that idea of careerism versus being more human or softer and that balance. But young people really love it, like 13 to 19 year olds really connect with it, which I didn’t expect.
Well it’s a film about young people rebelling and doing something important in a way that’s actually intellectual or for a greater purpose than simply having fun.
There’s this idea now that rebellion is like play, but rebellion has always been rebellion, not play. Going on spring break isn’t rebellion, having a part at your parents house when they’re out of town is about the thrill of being antiauthoritarian, it isn’t just about the thrill of getting drunk for the first time. It’s funny how consumerism has sort of co-opted that of sex and drunkeness and debauchery as the things that everyone should want and stride for. That’s such a capitalist trick.
It might be more rebellious now to just stay in at the library.
Or be antiauthoritarian or against the status quo. One of Michael Haneke’s movies that I love is The Seventh Continent. Supposedly when it premiered at Cannes, the audience freaked out when they flushed the money down the toilet at the end. That idea was so anathema to people. That fascinates me, the idea of flushing money down a toilet bothers people more than murder bothers people.
Well, it’s also a more tangible concept, it’s harder to conceive of actually murdering someone.
I think people imagine murdering people more than they would imagine flushing their money down the toilet. It so breaks the illusion of everybody wanting to win the lottery. But back to your question, across the board, the movie played strong at Sundance and the Q&A had 95% retention and I thought: is this because of the actors? And then we showed the movie in Ann Arbor where it was just me and Brit. People started talking about the movie and afterwards came up to me and were like, "You know, the guy who poisoned the water in our town, he was in the audience and we kept looking over at him." And then this older woman was like, "So I came with my sister who always drags me to these movies, I don’t really like these kind of movies, I like comedies, and I don’t even watch movies in theaters." So I said, thank you and then she’s like, "But I saw your movie and I can’t get it out of my head, it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen in the last couple years because it’s asking questions, I just feel guilty about what I’ve been doing." And I was like, well, don’t feel too guilty—but that reaction was just so heartwarming. Then we went to SXSW  and had a similar reaction, and then from place to place—whether it was Dallas or Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco—people wanted to talk. It’s not so much about the movie but people want to talk about these issues—the corruption of pharmaceutical companies and how they’re being run by marketing rather than the bettering of people’s lives, corporate accountability, private intelligence, and is private intelligence really happening? And that’s a cool reaction.
With Sound of My Voice, because it was a smaller film, that operated on two levels—the grand concept and the intimate story. With something like Sound of My Voice or even Another Earth, you guys say, okay this woman might be a time traveler or you put an Earth 2 in the sky and you believe it because it’s rooted in something deeper and you’ve built the base for this story. You don’t need to necessarily show those things in detail to understand them as truth. But with this, because it was a bigger film you have the grand concept, the intimate story, but also the middle, more explainatory section of the film. Is that something you were aware of?
Thats interesting. As a writer, I always thought of Sound of My Voice as a single gear bike, like it had one rotation and you just had to pull off that rotation and you could do that rotation scene after scene if it was doable and that translated into the filmmaking—and the scenes were about claustrophobia or about faith. And then The East I always thought of it as three gears and you can create venn diagrams and do interesting things with it. So yeah, just trying to pull off all the math of the thriller and trying to make it thrilling and then in the shooting of it too, I was really lucky that I had amazing collaborators. 
Did you have an idea of who you wanted to cast in the film beforehand?
The script was its own litmus test—who wants to come and have an adventure with us. And right away people closed the script and were either like, not for me, or I have to do this. And we were excited to meet those people and we got lucky that they’re such good actors, the acting is really strong in this movie—like Julia Ormond had two days of work and she just shines. 
Were you all really close off set?
There wasn’t much off-set time, we were working six days a week. But on our one day off, we would actually spend a lot of time together. Alexander would cook for the crew and the cast. We liked each other but we were also learning from each other, I felt like it was a time of great discovery for people.There were these freegans I’d invited to come play with three other members of The East—I didn’t want extras or background, I get so offended by the idea of "background" actors. So there were three freegans and I remember they had each their own hotel room but instead wanted to all be in a room together, and I thought that was so cool. I think the actors were fascinated by that world, as were the freegans by the actor’s world and they merged together.
I know you’re very inspired by the political thrillers of the 1970s and that definitely comes across in this and knowing that going into it, felt like you were able to merge your cinematic affinities so well with something that was so modern. Were than any specific films you were looking to while making this?
I love Pakula, as you know, so I love The Parallax View and All The Presidents Men and Klute. But the funny thing is, I storyboard these movies as we’re writing the final draft but I never bring that notebook to set. We sort of throw it all out and let the soup come.Someone said that they thought parts of The East were really familiar and I thought to myself: really? I’ve been thinking about that and what it is, is that the thrill is familiar. 
But it’s not a cheap thrill, there’s a purpose and you’re connected. It’s thrilling because you care about these people and want to know what’s happening.
They’re poisoning a pharmaceutical board’s champagne with its own pharmaceutical, that’s not familiar.
When was the last time you saw that?
And when was the last time you saw a movie about a female spy who had a female boss? We never see that.
How do you and Brit go about working together, what is that creative process like for the two of you? I know that you had visited an anarchist collective while traveling and that sparked your desire to write this.
We couldn’t shake that experience and we also wanted to do a spy movie, so those two vines grew together. We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. A character like Izzy did things all the time that I didn’t think she would do.
And what’s so great about The East is that the message is so strong and yet it’s not polemic, it’s there to spark thought.
In Philadelphia when we were showing the movie, for some reason a lot of parents brought their 13 or 14 year olds—or was it the teens that brought their parents. I don’t know how they found out about the movie but they started asking questions in tandem. And I thought wow, how amazing to start the trans-generational dialogue, I felt like the parents were really grateful that this dialogue had started. So I don’t think it’s as much about the film as much as its about the conversation that comes afterwards. I made the joke that you should see this movie with someone you’re sleeping with so you can wake up and talk about it. But it’s also a nice movie for parents and children to see together—older children and their boomer parents or younger children and their younger parents—because it’s a nice film to talk about and it’s about what it stirs up in us about accountability.
Check out more brilliant posters for the film by Caspar Newbolt.

From the Coen Brothers to G.W. Pabst, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York City

Now that you’ve recovered from your Memorial Day festivities, it’s time for the weekend once again. And although we look to reach some tropical temperatures in the next few days, don’t go running to the beach just yet. There’s the entire rest of your summer to do that, so why not spend the afternoon in the cool breeze of a cinema? Or, if you’re really not that misanthropic, find yourself someone to attend one of the fantastic late night screenings happening around the city this weekend. With the brilliant and bizarre classics  from  Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Coen Brothers, and Orson Welles, to some of the best premieres of the season with Zal Batmanglij’s The East and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, there’s certainly something to satisfy everyone’s cinematic appetite. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing in the city this weekend, so peruse our list, grab yourself some snacks, and enjoy.


IFC Center

Blazing Saddles
Frances Ha
Something in the Air
Time Bandits
Upstream Color



Film Linc

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself




Frances Ha
The Iceman
Basic Instinct
Texas Chainsaw Part 2
Living in Oblivion
Pandoras Box



Film Forum

School of Rock
Becoming Traviata
A Pig Across Paris



Landmark Sunshine

In the House
Fill the Void
The Warriors



Angelika Film Center

Before Midnight
Stories We Tell
What Maisie Knew
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks



Museum of the Moving Image

Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come
The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Dig!
Neil Young in Greendale


Alexander Skarsgård on Exploring ‘The East’ and the Joys of Creative Freedom

Following his initial reading of Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s brilliantly-crafted eco-thriller The East, actor Alexander Skarsgard had a simple message for his agent. "I don’t care what else is coming up out there," Skarsgård said. "I want to work with these people." It wasn’t only a testament to their thought-provoking and thrilling script, it was a reaction to the energy that Zal and Brit possess about their work, a voracious appetite for storytelling and a passion for making films that truly mean something and speak to the world we live in. 

As one of the most sought after and versatile actors in Hollywood today, Skarsgård’s been on everyone’s radar this spring with a slew of films that showcase the poetic nature and striking talent wrapped inside his hulking good looks. So after seeing him as the desolate veteran and husband in Disconnect and the hapless bartender-turned-father-figure in What Maisie Knew, with Batmanglij’s film we’re shown a more exposed side of Skarsgard, as Benji the charismatic leader of anarchist collective The East. 

Telling the story of Sarah, we see Marling as 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 confront 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, growing closer to Benji, and opening her eyes to the wrongdoings that so easily go unnoticed.

"He has a lot of poetry in his eyes," says Zal of Skarsgård, who brings Benji to life with a vitality matched by his hidden vulnerability.  "At the end of the film it just made me think about morality," Skarsgård says, "and what is okay about civil disobedience, breaking the law, hurting someone, and how far you’re willing to go." Last week I got the chance to sit down with Skarsgård—for the second time this month— at the Crosby Street Hotel to discuss his unique and wonderful experience working on the feature, the importance of creative exploration as an actor, and bringing Zal and Brit’s vision to life.
How did you first become involved with the film, and what attracted you to the project?
Well, I got involved the good old way. I was sent a script from my agents two years ago on the 4th of July. I was in San Diego with some friends and I read it and was just blown away. I thought it was such a great script—so intelligent and interesting and felt like an old school spy thriller from the 1970’s but relevant and an important issue. It really made me think about these issues. So I called my agents and asked to meet the filmmaker. I’d seen Sound of My Voice and thought it was beautiful, so I drove up to LA and met with Zal and Brit. They just have a phenomenal energy; you get very inspired by them. We met and talked and hung out for an afternoon and I just thought that I would love to work with these people. 
I’ve been enormous admirers of those two for a while now, and feel like not only are they extremely talented but such an important new voice in cinema. As an actor that must be exciting to discover.
Oh, absolutely. I walked out of that meeting and called my agent immediately.  I said, I don’t care what else is coming up out there, I want to work with these people.
How did you jump into helping develop Benji and get to know him?
I was on my way to New York to shoot What Maisie Knew and Disconnect back-to-back, so I met with Zal and Brit a couple of times. And then working on Benji, it was basically over the phone. Zal and I would talk and Brit and I would talk about him and the relationship between Benji and Sarah. It was a great process because they’re so open to the collaborative process of exploring it together, and at no point did I feel like there were egos involved or they were holding onto something because they wrote the script. They were very open to letting me explore and exploring it together and playing around with it—which made it very exciting on set when you have a director who loves to be surprised. 
Do you enjoy this kind of collaborative environment? I imagine that’s refreshing when plenty of directors are more closed off and really just want you to serve their vision.
It’s just more inspiring when you work with someone who makes you feel that there’s a creative freedom, where you’re allowed to follow your instinct. And sometimes that might change and I love those moments when you prepare for a scene and you work on it and you think about it and you have an idea of how the scene will play out and which direction it will go in and I love moments when it doesn’t and something will happen because it’s an interaction between you and the person you’re in the scene with and that energy. You feed off each other in a way and it changes and I love that and being able to go with it and have director that’s applauding behind the camera being like, "Go go go!" Its about creating a safe environment on set where people feel like they’re allowed to make mistakes or go in a direction and just free fall; that’s how you create moments that are interesting and unique because you’re not playing it safe and you’re not trying do exactly what you’re prepared to do. And Zal is definitely one of those directors who is extremely prepared and knows the story and knows the characters, but also loves those moments that happen.
You and Brit had such a phenomenal chemistry together. It must be great working with someone like her whose also written the script so she knows the characters completely inside and out.
But that’s what so interesting about it because Brit wrote it, but it was also like she didn’t write it for herself. She was a writer but then she took it on as an actress and she was also in that process of exploring Sarah and getting to know who she was . We would get together on Sundays and just play around with the scenes and talk about it. We’re very similar in that way, Brit and I. And it’s also a domino effect—you shoot a scene and its different than the way you planned it and that will effect the relationship and that will effect the following scene, so we would sit and play around with it. She also gets very excited when we’d discover things.
With a film like this you can tell that it was a very close set.
Yes, unlike any set I’d ever been on. It was a combination of the material—just such a great script and interesting story—and Zal and Brit’s energy. To have them on set everyday and their enthusiasm, everyone was so effected by that and felt it. Even the people behind the camera, everyone was so intrigued and so involved in doing their job—like telling the story and making this film to a level I’ve never experienced before, where a grip would come up at lunch and be like: "Alex that scene this morning, when Benji said that—what did that mean?" And even give me notes and I would love that. We were all in that together. When we weren’t on set we’d all hang out;  Zal and Brit rented a house and we’d all hang out there and cook and on weekends play around with the scenes.
Have you enjoyed seeing the array of reactions to the film as you’ve taken it around to different festivals?
We’ve had some really great conversations with people, and people get really engaged. What I loved about the script—and I hope we were able to capture that—is that it’s not didactic, it’s not preachy. It’s not about a girl who works for the big bad corporation and then she joins the bearded people out in the woods and she realizes they’re the good guys and it’s a Robin Hood story of her fighting with them.
It’s more complex than that.
Yeah, it has much more depth than that and is more complicated. Even within the group they don’t all agree, which I thought was very interesting and very real. If you look at groups like the Weather Underground, one of the reasons they imploded was that they didn’t all agree. Some of them were willing to go really far and hurt people or kill people for the cause and some weren’t and we wanted to capture that. We also wanted to end the movie with the feeling I got when I read the script, where it didn’t feel like they were shoving an opinion down my throat or propaganda,it felt like at the end of the film it just made me think about morality and what is okay about civil disobedience, breaking the law, hurting someone, and how far you’re willing to go. And to do that and combine that with a movie that’s actually entertaining and fun a great spy thriller with a love story, I think Zal and Brit did a phenomenal job with the script and that’s how I got excited. 
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See a New Set of Photos From Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Last year, when speaking to writer and actor Brit Marling about Sound of My Voice, we got to talking about the films that have informed us creatively and the longing to expose everyday life in an abstract way. "Like that moment in Three Colors: Blue when she’s dragging her knuckles across that stone wall or in Red when the bubble gum ad becomes like the metaphysical portal into how she nearly dies and meets the love of her life. A fucking bubble gum ad! I love that pairing," she said. "I think our generation has that desire. You see it in music now, too; there’s a kind of earnestness and deep desire for something romantic and honest, but also the possibility for something magical in the mundane. We’re all hoping there’s more to all of this that meets the eye, and I hope that’s true." And with her latest film, The East—which she stars in and co-wrote with the film’s director, the wonderfully talented Zal Batmanglij, they’ve once again have collaborated to create something both thrilling and emotional, relevant to our current generation and questions that plague our society.

Starring Marling, Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgard, and Patricia Clarkson, The East goes as follows:

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

And with the film’s release later this month, we’ve already seen a trailer for the feature, as well as stills and posters. But now we get an even closer look at the film with a new set of photos—both on set and from the film—as well as a new featurette. The East is a fantastic second feature for Batmanglij and shows how truly talented he and Marling are at creating an enlightening and engaging narrative.

So if you haven’t been keeping up with the film, see HERE, HERE, and HERE for more on The East and catch it when it hits theaters May 31st.








Watch a Thrilling New Trailer for Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

Last week, we talked about the need for films that not only show us where we’re at as a society and where we’re going, but how it feels. Alongside that, came new stills for Zal Batmanglij’s upcoming eco-thriller The East, a film that speaks to the confounding nature of our generation with a voice that’s refreshing and unique. Brimming with kinetic energy and emotion Batmanglij’s sophomore feature was co-written with Brit Marling, the two exploring similar territory as their first film Sound of My Voice—investigation of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and questions of personal belief—but now tackling those questions on a larger scale. And with The East, Batmanglij has proven himself a filmmaker to be excited about, whose career feels important to our current independent cinematic climate with the desire to tell authentic stories that reflect what it means to exist in today. 

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.

When I interviewed Marling last year, we spoke about the type of films we both enjoy and the films she intends to write, saying: 
 I think cinema can get at the ineffable and the metaphysical in a way that’s very special. If a play is 80 percent auditory and 20 percent visual, cinema is the reverse. There are moments in film that can get to a place beyond words. Literally things that cannot be described by language—language is too limited. I think that we’re always interested in those kind of endings, trying to arrive at a place after 90 minutes of storytelling just for one breathless moment where the film is articulating something that you’ve always wanted to say but there haven’t been words for. 
And with The East, we’re left in that breathlessness, questioning our own beliefs and struggling to understand just which way we should turn. So with that, today we get a new trailer for the feature that highlights the drama and thrill of the story but also exposes the emotional side of their journey, with brilliant performances by Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, and many more. Take a look below.

Go Deeper Inside ‘The East’ With More Stills From Zal Batmanglij’s New Dramatic Thriller

Now more than ever, we need films that speak to where we’re at and where we’re going, exposing now only how it is, but how it feels. As culture assimilates to what’s happening in our society, the art and entertainment we consume shouldn’t be purely escapism to dull our anxiety, but a reflection of what it’s like to exist in a time when no one quite knows where to hang their beliefs. "I feel tremendously lucky to be a filmmaker in this decade but it’s also daunting because nobody knows what the fuck is going on. We live in a strange, strange time," said director Zal Batmanglij, whose new film The East speaks the discontent of our generation and how we’re dealing with the issues that permeate our society. But rather than haranguing you, The East invites you in with its intriguing thrill yet feels and feels as immediate as it does emotionally stirring.

In Batmanglij’s sophomore effort, we follow Sarah (played by Brit Marling who also co-wrote the film), 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.

And thanks to HitFix, we now have a new batch of stills from the film that give us a deeper look at the cast, which features Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, and Shiloh Fernandez. Take a look below and get excited for The East when it hits theater May 31st.





Looking Back on Some of the Best Sophomore Efforts in Cinema

This spring, we’ll see sophomore film debuts from myriad directors whose first features set the hooks in our film fancies and intrigued us as to what they would have up their sleeves next. For some, it’s taken half a decade or more for their second films to come to fruition and for others their successful first features carved the path for a speedy and welcome return. Between Shane Carruth’s shockingly brilliant Upstream Color, Antonio Campos’ hauntingly visceral Simon Killer, Zal Batmanglij’s audacious thriller The East, and a handful more, there are plenty of new films to look forward to from directors to get excited about. However, the second film is tricky territory.

Although a director’s third film may truly establish a particular autueristic style or cinematic language, the second illuminates their voice, allowing us to better gauge whether their first feature was nothing more than a one-off stroke of genius or a one-off misstep. I can say with confidence that the sophomore films debuting in the coming months—those that I have seen, anyway—more than live up to my expectations and it’s thrilled me to become infatuated with filmmakers on the cusp of something great. For even some of the most acclaimed and interesting directors haven’t always had the greatest sophomore efforts—there’s no definitive parallel necessarily. But for some, it’s their second film that established them in Hollywood as someone to watch and someone to admire, paving the way for a long career ahead. In honor of these fascinating new directors with films premiering soon, here’s a look at some of the best sophomore efforts in the history of cinema.

Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby

First film: The Landlord, Third Film: The Last Detail 

Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick

First Film: Badlands, Third Film: The Thin Red Line

Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson

First Film: Hard Eight, Third Film: Magnolia

Klute, Alan J. Pakula

First Film: The Sterile Cuckoo, Third Film: Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing

The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich

First Film: Targets, Third Film: What’s Up, Doc?

Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino

First Film: Reservoir Dogs, Third Film: Jackie Brown

A Woman is a Woman, Jean-Luc Godard

First Film: Breathless, Third Film: Vivre Sa Vie

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michael Gondry

First Film: Human Nature, Third Film: The Science of Sleep

Se7en, David Fincher

First Film: Alien 3, Third Film: The Game

Trainspotting, Danny Boyle

First Film: Shallow Grave, Third Film: A Life Less Ordinary

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola

First Film: The Virgin Suicides, Third Film: Marie Antoinette

Five Easy Pieces, Bob Rafelson

First Film: Head, Third Film: The King of Marvin Gardens

Dazed and Confused, Richard Linklater

First Film: Slacker, Third Film: Before Sunrise

Safe, Todd Haynes

First Film: Poison, Third Fim: Velvet Goldmine

The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino

First Film: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Third Film: Heaven’s Gate

The Graduate, Mike Nichols

First Film: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Third Film: Catch-22

Alien, Ridley Scott

First Film: Duellists, Third Film: Blade Runner

BlackBook Exclusive: See the New Poster & Official Website for Zal Batmanglij’s ‘The East’

“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 Voicea 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.

The Most Anticipated Films of the Spring and Summer (Other Than ‘Before Midnight’)

For the past nine years, we’ve all been waiting to see if Jesse ever got on that plane and what became of him and Celine in Richard Linklater’s 2004 intimate walking-and-talking romance Before Sunset, the follow-up to 1995’s Before Sunrise. And now, eighteen years since that first moment in Vienna, we finally get to see where their story lands. Sony Pictures Classics have acquired Before Midnight, and to our delight it’s been revealed that the film we’ve been waiting so long with baited breath to see will finally have a limited release run starting May 24th in New York and Los Angeles. But Linklater’s decade-spanning drama isn’t the only one getting an official date. Pedro Almodovar’s follow-up to last year’s The Skin I Live in, the vibrant comedy I’m So Excited, will hit New York and L.A. on June 28th. And to top it off, as Woody Allen’s annual film will have a mid-summer’s release. Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love both premiered in early June but his latest, Blue Jasmine (starring Cate Blanchett, Alec baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, and Louis CK), will roll out on July 26th for a limited release.

So as if you weren’t already looking forward to summer, there are plenty of fantastic films headed our way, all sure to tickle your cinematic fancy. So while you’re cracking open your planner, take a look at what else is set to premiere in the season and what we’re most excited about—from Shane Carruth’s haunting sophomore feature to Danny Boyle’s latest masterpiece.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance’s epic triptych drama about a motorcycle stunt rider who turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective. 

Upstream Color

Shane Carrauth’s confounding and stunnigly complex sophomore effort about a man and woman who are drawn together and become entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. 


Matteo Garrone’s larger-than-life surrealist follow-up to Gommorah, the film is set in the world of reality television and follows a Neapolitan fishmonger who participates in Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother

To the Wonder 

Terrence Malick’s latest sprawling poem of images is a romantic drama that tells the story of a couple who move to Oklahoma, where problems arise as we watch the natural progression of love’s painful ebb and flow.


Frances Ha 

Co-written by director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, we get a black-and-white look a a floundering young woman who works as an apprentice in a dance company and wants so much more than she has but lives life with unaccountable joy and lightness.


Danny Boyle’s vibrant and mystifying heist of the mind drama about an art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals that partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

Simon Killer

Antonio Campos’s psychologically distrubing yet visually beautiful drama about a recent college graduate who travels to France, where he becomes involved with a young prostitute.

Beyond the Hills

Cristian Mungiu’s third feature that centers on the friendship between two young women who grew up in the same orphanage; one has found refuge at a convent in Romania and refuses to leave with her friend, who now lives in Germany.

The East

Zal Batmanglij’s sophomore effort is a psycholigically challenging eco-thriller about 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.

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan’s ornate transgender epic about a man who reveals his inner desire to become his true self: a woman. Spanning through the late 1980s into the early 1990s, the story chronicles a doomed love affair.


Tim Sutton’s subtly poignant and ethereal film plays out almost silently as it tells the story of Max, who leaves his lakeside town to live with his father in suburban Arizona.