by Barbara Chai, published on January 27, 2013 - 9:13 p.m. ET|
In the new film "The East," an anarchist collective of the same name lives in the woods, with members diving through Dumpsters for food, hopping trains for transportation and bathing in a lake.
But the purpose of the collective in the espionage thriller isn't just to experience life off the grid. The members target chief executives and seats of power, specifically big drug companies and the oil industry.
"Multinational corporations are outside of the purview of any nation-state. These are the entities that are shaping and running the world," says Brit Marling, who co-wrote the film and stars as Sarah, a female agent assigned to infiltrate The East. "The modern anarchy movement is about rebelling against the corporate structure," she says.
Ms. Marling and co-writer Zal Batmanglij, who directed, say the movie isn't meant to promote an agenda, but rather to entertain and to raise moral questions about society.
"The East," a Fox Searchlight film, had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last week. Produced by Scott Free Productions, the film also stars Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgård, Julia Ormond and Patricia Clarkson. A date for wide release hasn't been set.
Mr. Batmanglij, 31 years old, and Ms. Marling, 29, who met as classmates at Georgetown University, spent a summer as "freegans" in which they lived in abandoned spaces in sleeping bags, reused discarded goods and ate food found in trash bins. When they returned to their regular lives, they began writing what they conceived of as a thriller set in that world off the grid, with anarchists seeking revenge on corporations that the collective deemed harmful to society.
In "The East," the anarchists pursue an oil company that has contaminated a town's drinking water and a pharmaceutical company that produces a drug with devastating side effects.
Ms. Marling and Mr. Batmanglij started writing "The East" before the BP PLC oil spill and some of the recent protests over hydraulic fracturing. They say they didn't draw from real events but found that their film turned out prescient.
"The East" was shot in six weeks in Shreveport, La., in a dilapidated mansion that lacked electricity or heat. Like the characters in the movie, the actors and filmmakers lived in the mansion during shooting.
For Mr. Batmanglij, the collective's name encompasses the tony image of some East Coast areas of the U.S., in which kids grow up with outsize ambitions, as well as of the Mideast or Far East, regions seen as the "other," or alien to the West, as Edward Said observed in his book, "Orientalism."
"I thought that was an interesting name for a resistance group that is combined of kids from New England who want to make themselves the 'other,' " says Mr. Batmanglij.
Production on "The East" began just before the Occupy movement gained traction. "I think we're just tapping into that frustration," he says.