From left: Brit Marling, Zal Batmanglij and Michael Moore
The morning panel discussion at the Traverse City Film Festival had Michael Moore talking with Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, who have a decade-long friendship and have collaborated (co-writing, directing, acting) on the films The East and The Sound of My Voice.
“I have a lot of hope for cinema as an art form when I see what young people are doing,” Moore said when introducing the talk, and Marling and Batmanglij did a fine job endorsing that notion.
The three covered lots of ground in their discussion, but the most inspiring stories came as Batmanglij and Marling described carving their own path through the filmmaking world. They and their third collaborator, Michael Cahill, met at Georgetown University. Two studied economics. One studied anthropology. But they all fell in love with filmmaking.
They stayed together as pals and collaborators, eventually moving to Los Angeles to make movies. They had zero luck breaking into the Hollywood machine, and Marling recalled a casting call where she had to act a scene where her body was being dismembered by a guy with a chainsaw. It was a watershed moment. She went back to the apartment she shared with Batmanglij and Cahill and said, “This stuff is crap.” And it fueled their determination to write and produce their own films.
The trio’s first two films have been well received, and Marling is landing jobs with big name stars sharing the set. But you can tell the passion they have for working together on stories they dream up is the thing that drives them.
They conceded one of the most difficult things is sticking with the dream as family asks, “Isn’t it time to move on?” “It was like six years of no visible progress,” Batmanglij said. “So our families were like, You three have a collective delusion.”
Zal Batmanglij (apologies for the blurriness)
The dream often speaks as just a whisper, Batmanglij said, “and it can be so quiet that it can easily be snuffed out by another voice that’s also in everybody’s head saying not to listen to it, that you can’t do it, that you won’t make it.” Another thing that can kill the whispering dream: going to film school, according to Batmanglij. There can be so much competition, so much being surrounded by everybody pursuing a similar mission, that he felt it worked better for his team to develop entirely outside that world, so they could forge the friendship bonds they needed to explore their ideas and produce them and work together effectively and just to let their own particular whispering dream develop on its own and retain its sense of individuality.
Inspiring talk, and by the end, hard not to agree with Michael Moore’s assessment, that there’s plenty of promise and hope to be found as the next generation of filmmakers turns up the volume on the whispers that are their film dreams.
Panel discussions at the Traverse City Film Festival happen each morning at 9:30 at the City Opera House.