There is a new movement happening in the independent world, one that is focused on stretching, seeking, and questioning. It is happening in film, in comedy, in art, in music. There are two defining features of this movement that make it so important. The first is the rise of the niche, or the decline of the mainstream. Everything in the world of art and entertainment has become so fragmented that there hardly exists a giant mainstream anymore, but a huge collection of niches that overlap and intermingle. This means that the definition of the term independent has to change, and I believe it just means real, honest, and personal. Independent is no longer a limiting term, it is no longer a fringe term, because the niche has become the mainstream in a weird way. The second is the era of collaboration, or screw ownership, let’s get real. The simplification of the creation and distribution of artistic endeavors means not only that anyone can do it, but people can do it first and foremost for the pure joy of it. And what brings more joy than sharing that act of creation with friends? So people are banding together with like-minded people to create the art and entertainment they want to see in the world and then putting it out there. People are less concerned with a ‘look at me, this is mine, I made this!’ mentality in the independent world, and more with getting at truth. I believe both of these two trends signal the birth of a new world.
‘The East’ is the new movie by filmmaking duo Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. They started their feature collaboration by making last year’s ‘The Sound of My Voice’ (see here). Brit got started in writing because she was tired of auditioning and not finding the roles out there she was passionate about playing. After her first feature as a writer and star, she re-teamed with like-minded Zal (they made a short together in 2007), and they discovered they were passionate about many of the same things. They had these big questions about society and the world that they were wrestling with, and decided to go on a journey together to explore those questions and see what comes of it. They spent a summer traveling around the country and spending time with different groups that considered themselves a part of the counterculture, people questioning the world around them in the same way. This trip was the genesis of both films, and they both deal with similar themes, but in dramatically different ways. ‘The Sound of My Voice’ is a much smaller and contained film, whereas their upcoming film ‘The East’ stretches much farther and goes much deeper. It also uses the apparatus and cinematic language of the mainstream to achieve its aims. Thus the niche usurps the mainstream and becomes something altogether different and new. Are you ready?
One of the joys of the style of film Brit and Zal make is discovering the details for yourself as you watch. So I will say very little about the specifics of this film, other than the generic synopsis you can find anywhere online: a private intelligence agent is sent to infiltrate an eco-terrorist organization attacking the heads of large corporations they feel have wronged the American people. That synopsis tells you nothing about the film’s heart or meaning, it’s just dressing. In their earlier film, ‘The Sound of My Voice’, I stated the defining feature of the film was that they were setting up an argument with two sides, and giving you enough crumbs on both sides to make the case for either one based on your convictions. I also said the danger is that people entrenched on a single side might miss the point. Well, with ‘The East’, they have corrected that dilemma in a powerful, shaking way. They again set up an argument with two sides, but instead of providing the evidence to support either side, they instead focus on providing the evidence to destroy both sides. The danger here as a viewer now is this: if both sides are torn down and destroyed, what is left? So the inner dilemma becomes, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Will you see what they have done and use it an excuse to feel nihilistic, or write the filmmakers off as nihilists? Or will you use it as an opportunity to imagine a brave new world?
And that brings us full circle: I believe the answer to the question of pessimism vs. optimism presented is the question of the individual vs. community. If you place all of the power in the hands of the individual, then we are headed for the doom and gloom of nihilism. It may seem an odd connection, but by extension, placing power with the individual is the same as placing it with the large individual systems of society we have created: governments, corporations, countries, etc… They are equivalent, and this is precisely why the equivalency of corporations and people makes sense in the eyes of those whole believe in absolute individualism. That view brings destruction and rubble. It is hard to see a way out of these systems, which is what leads to pessimism about the future. The cure is community. Communities are built upon love, they represent creation. Communities are always small at heart, even if they get big (though it is a very difficult balance to find and maintain). Communities are groups of likeminded individuals banding together over common ideas, beliefs, and goals to create something new or different. Communities are agents of change and evolution. No individual can achieve this, but they can inspire others to join them in community. This is achieved through love. Love is the answer. As I stated at the start, I see a new world order in arts and entertainment based on collaboration, community, and love. I believe this will extend beyond those realms and into the whole of global society, evolving a new social order. So which side are you on? Is the world ending? Or do you believe in love?